Reflections on SARC — what we do and why
— Meg Webb, Manager.
It’s been just over a year since I was appointed Manager of Anglicare Tasmania’s Social Action and Research Centre (SARC), so it feels like a good time to reflect and share what I have learned about who we are, what we do, and where we’re going.
As the new Manager one of my first jobs was to develop a deep appreciation of SARC’s unique position in Tasmania and to ensure that the way forward I’ve mapped with my team builds on its incredible legacy of successful advocacy for change.
SARC’s vision is simple and powerful. We want a just Tasmania — a Tasmania where every person has an equal opportunity to reach fullness of life. Our mission is to help create it. We work to bring about positive social change through research and advocacy, and we are committed to policy debate as an essential part of a robust civil society.
SARC is unique in the Tasmanian social policy and community sector landscape, and among only a small group of similar entities nationally. Three things that make SARC unique are:
- We are independent and beholden to no external funding sources or agendas, allowing us to set our own priorities and operate according to our own values.
- We are connected to the largest NGO in Tasmania which delivers services across the state, grounding our work directly in the daily experiences of low income Tasmanians.
- We explicitly focus on Tasmania and the social issues that directly impact our state and our people.
SARC was established because the Board of Anglicare Tasmania wanted to complement the service delivery of the organisation with resources dedicated to working for social change. Since 1983 Anglicare Tasmania has been providing direct assistance to people who are struggling with a range of issues, often at crisis point — housing, family functioning, mental health, alcohol and drug misuse, gambling addiction, aged and disability care. Direct services to people in need of support are essential and often make a life-changing difference to individuals and families. But they are ultimately a response to the symptoms, and cannot act on the causes of hardship.
The Anglicare Tasmania Board recognised that to achieve enduring change at a systemic level, change outcomes for our whole community and create a just Tasmania, a different level of working was required. SARC was established to effect change in social policy, in structural systems, and in community awareness and empowerment.
What we do
Since its inception, SARC has built a reputation for credible, high quality work in social research, policy and advocacy. Our work has covered the priority social issues that affect Tasmanians: housing and homelessness, mental health, gambling, disability, out-of-home care, ageing, transport, poverty, cost of living, food security, employment and education.
Qualitative and quantitative social research is a fundamental focus for SARC work. Our qualitative research allows the voices and lived experience of Tasmanians to be directly heard. In some cases it draws on Anglicare service delivery expertise and clients. Our quantitative research utilises statistical evidence to show demographic and other trends and make the case for systemic change.
SARC’s social research provides a credible, local and current evidence base which we and other organisations leverage in advocacy work. Our work contributes public evidence to inform and influence the policy and social action activities of others in the Tasmanian and national contexts. Quality research is a key way in which SARC builds credibility and influence to better achieve its goal of social change.
The other fundamental of the work we do at SARC could be broadly called social action. Social action is about fighting for fairness, equality and justice through systemic change. It is taking steps to create a more just and equitable Tasmania and introducing new ideas and processes for doing things better. Social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve important problems in our communities.
SARC engages in social action through policy development, advocacy and campaigning. We identify and develop policy positions on priority issues and we respond to and work to influence current public policy agendas from all levels of government. Our advocacy involves directly lobbying government regarding social justice issues, connecting the work of SARC to broader public policy debates and creating opportunities for networking and collaboration to achieve social change. At times SARC uses a campaign approach to harness public support and create opportunities for direct community involvement in government decision-making. Campaigning, including creating coalitions of interest and building the capacity of others to advocate, is a powerful way to achieve social change.
I am incredibly fortunate to work with the highly skilled, passionate and experienced SARC team — researchers Teresa, Catherine, Lindsey and Selina, policy expert Margie, and Imogen our lead on advocacy, engagement and campaigns. Our model of working is to bring expert-level skills to bear across a spectrum of work in a cohesive and coordinated way for maximum impact. We have been working together for six months now under this model and it is exciting to see the team beginning to hit its stride and to see real value and results from the work that we do.
Our track record
SARC has a strong reputation for credible research and successful advocacy to effect positive social change. Some of our research stands as the seminal source of information on Tasmanian experiences, for example the settlement experience of former refugees in Tasmania, dealing with cost of living pressures as a person on low income, and the costs and impacts of poker machine gambling addiction. Our recurrent research such as the annual Rental Affordability Snapshot is relied upon by government and other organisations as a key information source.
SARC has also helped achieve significant policy and budget improvements, such as:
- The establishment of the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) in Tasmania;
- Increased state government funding for families on low incomes to help cover the costs of school essentials such as uniforms, excursions and teaching materials;
- Electricity charge concessions for Health Care and Pensioner Card holders through successive state budgets;
- Increased funding for affordable housing and public housing retrofitting for energy efficiency;
- Increased funding for Tasmania’s public dental services; and
- Reform to state government policies and programs in the areas of disability support, child protection, employment support and more.
The future of SARC
Here at SARC we want to continue to make a difference. We are passionate about our work because we want to see Tasmania and its people thrive. We will continue to respond to the needs that we see in our community. As champions of positive social change, we will be proactive in raising issues, building a local evidence base and shaping the social policy agenda.
Looking forward, we also know that tackling social issues is not done in isolation. SARC actively seeks opportunities to engage with others to amplify the impact of our work. We make progress towards a better future through collaboration, partnerships and mobilisation of the community based on our shared values of social justice. We have renewed our commitment to this focus. The urgent need to address long-term systemic issues in Tasmania means we must all work together to effect change as fast as we can.
Alongside our ongoing research and policy work, we will also look to enable bigger conversations about the future of Tasmania. We need to not only respond to current policy settings, but remember to look up as a community and together imagine new and better ways to approach old problems. To imagine together what we want a future Tasmania, a just Tasmania, to look like and how it will work. I believe SARC can help foster such conversations, and I hope you’ll join in.