People with disability and their carers receive less than those on the dole after the government excluded them from the $550 a fortnight coronavirus supplement payments, which “may result in discrimination”, according to a parliamentary human rights committee half stacked with Coalition senators.
Voice of Action spoke to several people on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and carer payments who are experiencing unforeseen higher costs during the COVID-19 crisis. They felt they were being discriminated against and penalised for having a disability, as they would have had a higher payment otherwise.
Anglicare said it “defies logic” that the groups most vunlerable to coronavirus were being left “to the mercy of the market”.
Labor senator Katy Gallagher pointed out that now a single parent of a six year old on the parenting payment was receiving more than the carer of a six year old with a disability.
Zoe (pictured), 46, who lives just outside Cairns, is a carer for her autistic son and her ex-husband, who has schizophrenia.
She told Voice of Action she was “disheartened” and “sickened” to learn she would be excluded from the coronavirus supplement payment, describing it as “discrimination”.
“They made the decision that disabled people and their carers are less deserving of real support than ‘able people’,” Zoe said.
People on the DSP spend $107 more a week on basic living costs than other Australians, according to research released last year by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. This is partly due to higher medical, power and transport costs.
There are currently about 747,000 people on the Disability Support Pension (DSP), while 282,000 receive the carer payment.
Half of people with disability already live in poverty and the unforeseen costs associated with the coronavirus crisis was “tipping people with disability over the edge”, according to a joint statement by 15 organisations who represent and advocate for people with disability.
The organisations said they were receiving “large volumes of calls” from people distressed to be excluded from the coronavirus payments, and are calling on the government to “act swiftly” to rectify this.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Liberal senator Sarah Henderson, last week found that excluding people on disability support and aged pensions from the coronavirus supplement “may result in discrimination”.
The committee, which is half comprised of Coalition senators, noted that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights required that the rights to an adequate standard of living and social security were able to be enjoyed without discrimination.
It also pointed out the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Culture Rights has stated that in the provision of social security special attention should be given to people with disability and older people.
“It is not clear how the [coronavirus supplement] measure supports the rights of persons with disabilities when it does not appear to apply to those receiving the Disability Support Pension,” the committee found.
“Excluding recipients on this pension and those on the Aged Pension from receipt of this additional payment may result in discrimination with respect to the enjoyment of the rights to an adequate standard of living and social security by these groups.”
Less than 10% of those with disability in Australia are supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) so most are unable to access and pay for the additional supports and services they require during this crisis.
Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot, released last week, found only 245 properties out of nearly 70,000 surveyed across the country would be affordable and suitable for those on the DSP.
The report recommended the coronavirus supplement be expanded to cover people on the DSP, Carers and Aged Pensioners with accomodation costs (660,000 people on the aged pension do not own their own home), who were “the groups most vulnerable to the coronavirus”.
“It defies logic that they have not been included in the Coronavirus Supplement,” according to Anglicare.
“Instead of looking after them in the midst of a health crisis, we are leaving them to the mercy of the market.”
At Senate committee hearings last week the Department of Social Services confirmed the government “took the decision” to exclude the DSP from the coronavirus supplement because the payment was designed to support people in work and “DSP recipients weren’t generally in the workforce”.
This was contradicted by People with Disability Australia spokeswoman El Gibbs, who told Voice of Action that “many people with disability work part-time or casually, while they are in receipt of the DSP, and many have lost this income during the pandemic”.
Treasury confirmed that it didn’t do (and wasn’t asked to do) any modelling on providing the coronavirus supplement for people on the DSP or carer payment.
Separately, the Department of Social Services said there was no consideration of a top-up for DSP recipients, and people with disability were not consulted about their additional living costs associated with COVID-19.
“It’s heartbreaking, but never surprising – we’re just so used to being ignored and excluded,” said 34-year-old disability campaigner and DSP recipient Kristin O’Connell, who lives in Sydney.
O’Connell told Voice of Action she felt “a huge sense of relief” when the coronavirus supplement was announced, but was “devastated” when she learned that people with disability and their carers would be left out. She does not have respiratory issues so is still able to shop for groceries on her own but she has lost her work income following the crisis.
“Even if my employer was doing ok, COVID has triggered my PTSD and anxiety, so my ability to work has been really badly affected by that,” O’Connell said.
“Even though the costs of basic items have gone up for me, the biggest problem is actually that the DSP wasn’t enough to live on, even before COVID. That’s why not being able to work is such a huge problem for me.”
Zoe, who has all four of her school-aged kids at home now and struggles to concentrate on her TAFE work, said her expenses had gone up as she had to buy alternative products when her usual choices weren’t available due to the panic buying. She also has increased transport costs as public transport is no longer safe.
People with Disability Australia said it had received a lot of contact from people with disability who were in financial distress as a direct result of this pandemic, “facing disruptions to essential supports, extra delivery costs, and competition for goods from non-disabled people”.