Disability Pensioners 'Skipping Meals' Over 'Inadequate' Coronavirus Help
People with a disability claim they have been "shafted" in the government's coronavirus response, with disability pensioners and their carers missing out on income supplements given to many other welfare recipients.
Last month, the federal government announced a huge $14 billion package to boost welfare payments in light of the coronavirus crisis.
"We will be supercharging the safety net,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
People receiving the JobSeeker payment (formerly known as Newstart), ABSTUDY, Austudy and more qualified for an extra $550 a fortnight -- nearly doubling the normal $565 a fortnight of JobSeeker -- but missing from the list were the Disability Support Pension and Carer's payment.
Those two groups -- people with a disability or the people who help look after them -- are eligible for two $750 Economic Support Payments. But a growing campaign is calling on social services minister Anne Ruston to include the disabled and their carers in the ongoing supplement, flagging that people with a disability may face unique high costs as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.
The difference between getting the supplement, or getting the two support payments, could be $5000 per person.
"I feel shafted by my government. This isn't fair or just," one DSP recipient, Daniel, wrote in a message shared in an online bulletin board by the Australian Unemployed Workers Union.
The AUWU is running a #RaiseTheDSP social media campaign calling for Ruston to include the disability and carers payments on the ongoing supplement. The union is collecting stories from members upset and affected by the snub.
"There is no money at the end of the day to get my medicine," another, Mandy, said.
"When half DSP already goes on medical expenses, overall leaves nothing for food, accommodation and bills," wrote Julie.
Kristin O’Connell, a DSP recipient and campaigner with the AUWU, told 10 daily the omission was unfair.
"It costs more to be disabled -- you have higher expenses," she said.
"The DSP was already hugely inadequate, and the failure to include it in the supplement is quite cynical."
The DSP is a higher payment than JobSeeker -- a maximum $465 a week for a single person, which O'Connell said reflected increased costs of having a disability -- such as medical treatment, assistance with mobility or access, or paying a carer.
However, despite Morrison saying the welfare boost was aimed at "supporting the most vulnerable", O'Connell said the government was ignoring rising costs during the coronavirus pandemic for the disabled.
"Usually you'd buy the cheapest of everything, like canned food and noodles, but because of panic-buying at supermarkets, those things aren't available because they sold out the quickest," she said.
"If you always buy home brand of everything, and that sells out, your budget is shot. If your budget is down to the last cent, like many people are, you can't absorb that extra cost."
"Our members are skipping even more meals than before."
Disability advocacy organisation Every Australian Counts said 50 percent of people with a disability live in poverty, but just 10 percent were supported by the National Disability Insurance Service. It warned coronavirus is "tipping people with disability over the edge".
Greens senator Jordon-Steele-John last month accused the government of "not taking the needs of disabled people and their families seriously enough", saying "costs and barriers have increased, not decreased, due to the COVID-19 pandemic".
Steele-John and fellow Greens senator Rachel Siewert are hosting a Zoom video call with DSP recipients on Wednesday night to hear their concerns, with more than 600 people registered.
O'Connell said carers are also being hurt. Many work casual jobs outside their caring responsibilities, but their jobs are disappearing or hours are drying up, and many are not eligible for the JobKeeper allowance.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ruston said the supplement was only temporary and that while Jobseeker payments and others would eventually return to their previous levels, the DSP will remain unchanged. They said the ongoing boosted payments were specifically for jobseekers "in recognition that the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will directly impede people’s chances of finding and retaining paid employment", and that people on the DSP were not expected to look for work.
“Pensions, including DSP and Carer Payment, are long-term payments and are typically paid at the highest rate of support in the system -- significantly higher than the JobSeeker base rate – because recipients are not expected to work to support themselves due to age, disability or caring responsibilities," the spokesperson said.
“It is important to remember the Coronavirus supplement is temporary while the pension rate will continue to apply once Australia comes out the other side of the Coronavirus pandemic.
National advocacy organisation People With Disability Australia said the disabled "represent some of the most excluded of all Australians in relation to the impacts of coronavirus," saying they are "rarely if ever, mentioned in any press conference, media release or government conversation about coronavirus."
It penned an open letter, signed by 70 disability organisations nationwide, calling for further government help, including extending welfare supplements and increased virus testing.
"This decision to exclude disabled people and carers exposes the government’s failure to understand our lives and needs," the AUWU said.