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Disabled, elderly and carers — a history of Centrelink coronavirus supports

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Our government isn't doing enough to consider the elderly and carers in their coronavirus supports (Image via iStock)

When it comes to the coronavirus supports offered by the Government for those on Centrelink payments, one cohort of society has been left mostly in the cold: disabled people, the elderly and carers.

Greens Senator and spokesperson for social services Rachel Siewert said:

‘Disabled people and carers feel abandoned by this government. It is crystal clear if you speak to anyone on these payments that additional support is urgently needed for people on these payments through this crisis.’

Whilst most Centrelink payment types, including JobSeeker, were given a $550 per fortnight coronavirus supplement starting in March, those on the Disability Support Pension (DSP), Aged Pension or Carer Payment received no such boost.

The Pension and Carer Payment recipients were given a $750 once-off payment in March along with everyone else on a Centrelink payment, in addition to the fortnightly increase. Those not receiving the fortnightly increase were then given a second payment of $750 in July, but that was it.

The initial six-month increase in payments for all but the disabled, elderly and carers was worth $7,150 extra for those payments, taking it to $7,900 once the first payment of $750 is added in. The disabled, elderly and carers received a total of $1,500 instead.

The Government has now committed to extending the fortnightly supplement beyond the initial six-month period, albeit at a slightly lower rate of $250 per fortnight extra. There has been no further supports announced for the disabled, elderly or carers by the Government.

In addition, the Government has now announced those on JobSeeker will receive an increased $300 per fortnight income threshold before their payment starts to reduce if they earn more than that. This puts their income threshold above those on the DSP, Aged Pension or Carer Payment now as well.

This journalist, as someone on the DSP, requested an increase to the income threshold at the very least for the DSP – given the payment rate was not being increased – back in March, directly to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office. That request was denied.

Now the Government has increased the income threshold for those on JobSeeker to offset the reduction in the supplement amount. Whereas those who do work casual or part-time and receive the DSP payment especially, face immediate reductions in their payment beyond $178 per fortnight.

It used to be said by the Prime Minister, “you have to have a go to get a go”. There is an expectation for the DSP payment especially that recipients will work part-time if able to and many do.

Considering that the disabled and elderly face disproportionately higher costs as a result of the lockdowns and received such little extra support compared to other payment types, why can the Government not at least increase the income threshold to $300 for the Pension and Carer Payments as well?

If the Government is not going to directly support these payment types with a supplement like most other Centrelink recipients have received, the least they could do is allow these people to earn a little extra themselves if they do work, before losing 50 cents in the dollar from their payment.

IA spoke to Rachel Siewert about this issue and why the Government does not seem to care about the disabled, elderly or carers when it comes to coronavirus supports:

I’m really disappointed that the Government is not seeing how big an issue this is for disabled people and carers. Disabled people and carers are our community, they are our constituents and they are facing extra costs due to this pandemic and they have a right to be supported during this crisis. I don’t understand why they don’t get that disabled people and carers need more support.

When asked if the Pension and Carer Payment should have an income threshold to match that of JobSeeker now, Senator Siewert said:

Disabled people and carers have been doing it extremely tough for the last few months without extra support to assist them with the higher costs they've been facing for groceries, transport and access to essential supports and medical supplies. They should have received the $550 supplement that was provided to people on Jobseeker and other working-aged payments at the beginning of the crisis. With further lockdowns and economic hardship now inevitable, it is incumbent on this government to acknowledge the thousands of Australians on the DSP and Carer Payment who need extra support.

Questions were also put to the Prime Minister’s office on this issue, via the PMO Media email, however, the Prime Minister declined to respond to IA’s questions on this before publication.

It is telling that those Australians who are the most vulnerable, or those who care for people like them, are the lowest priority for this government when it comes to coronavirus supports.

The disabled and elderly have faced disproportionately higher costs as a result of COVID-19, as Senator Siewert says:

‘Disabled people report going without food and medicine due to the additional costs associated with this crisis including food delivery, health care, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, transport and utility bills. Many services disabled people rely on are being closed or withdrawn and the options to replace these services are extremely expensive.’

Why the Government thinks the disabled or the elderly are capable of bearing the brunt of the coronavirus impact on their lives without much additional support whilst most other segments of society receives greater support is a question all media should be asking by this point.

No one is suggesting that those on JobSeeker and other payments did not deserve additional support, but to leave the disabled, elderly and carers out in the cold when everyone else on a Centrelink payment received a much higher rate of support is callous.

The Government might have Right-wing sentiment on its side in how it treats refugees in this country, or even how it gifts $10 million more to Murdoch while cutting ABC funding at the same time, but what is the Government’s excuse for not supporting the disabled and the elderly or their carers?

You can follow Chris Mordd Richards on Twitter @Mordd_IndyMedia.

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