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Rising costs cause distress and anxiety for people with disability: report

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A peak national disability rights organisation report released today highlights the increased costs of living for people with disability during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to “significant levels of distress and anxiety”.

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The study by People with Disability Australia (PWDA) – which follows sustained calls by advocates in recent months for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) rate to be raised – examined the changes to living costs, support services and healthcare between March and May for people with disability.

The organisation surveyed 204 people living with disability and carers from across Australia, 6.4 per cent of whom came from South Australia.

More than 90 per cent of respondents said their expenses had increased during the pandemic due to delivery costs, shortages of goods and increased spending on personal protective equipment, as well as other services.

The report found grocery expenses had increased for almost 60 per cent of respondents, while healthcare and medication costs rose for more than 30 per cent, and internet and phone expenses grew for 26 per cent.

It also found almost 40 per cent of respondents on the NDIS received less support during the pandemic than normal, while more than 46 per cent who rely on other services saw a drop in support.

The report’s release follows months of advocacy from disability rights groups who urged the Federal Government to extend its six-month $550 fortnightly coronavirus supplement to people on the Disability Support Pension.

People on the DSP were instead given two separate $750 payments.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated roughly 757,000 people aged 16 and over received the Government’s social security payment for people living with disability as of June 2018.

This number fell from 832,024 in 2013-14.

However, the number of sick or disabled people who were not able to receive the pension and instead relied on the Jobseeker payment (previously Newstart) had increased from the previous reporting period and sat at 284,900 in December 2018.

PWDA spokesperson El Gibbs told InDaily people with disability or chronic illness on the pension and Jobseeker payments required long-term payment increases to help reduce the effects of the coronavirus.

“We need to make sure that people with disability who are currently on the Jobseeker payment aren’t going to be thrown back into poverty when that payment is reduced again, and that more people can get access to the DSP,” Gibbs said.

“People with disability need a significant review of income report payments, plural, and systems set up that actually support us – rather than punishing people who can’t work full-time.”

Gibbs said while coronavirus restrictions had begun to ease for most of the country, until a vaccine was found people with disability would face “increased expenses, changes to support, and [would] need telehealth”.

“For many people with disability, myself included, the end of the lockdown isn’t going to come for a long time yet.

“For those of us who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, we have to maintain a degree of precaution that maybe non-disabled people don’t have to do.”

She said throughout the pandemic the organisation had received anecdotal evidence from people with disability which indicated an increase to the pension was required to meet living costs.

Gibbs said the “unforeseen costs in this time of crisis”  were causing “significant levels of distress and anxiety … serving to further entrench DSP recipients into poverty”.

“We found people faced significant increases in costs of groceries and food, in internet and phone – which was an interesting finding – in medication and in increased costs in getting sanitation and hygiene equipment.

“For some people with disability, we need that all of the time. So when everyone was needing hygiene equipment, it made things that were essential to our lives very difficult to get.”

Ellen Fraser-Barbour, a South Australian woman with hearing and vision impairments, said she had been in isolation since February, which left her heavily reliant on online orders and a support network for essential items.

“I have had pneumonia the last few winters. So it’s quite important that I stay isolated, so that I don’t get sick,” Fraser-Barbour said.

“At the beginning of February … before the lockdown, I knew there had been reporting of COVID-19, so I had to stay home and self-isolate.”

Fraser-Barbour said accessing essential items such as bread and milk was time-consuming, expensive and “exhausting”.

“I was trying to work from home but I’d spend hours trying to order groceries … it took me about three weeks to get the hang of it.”

Fraser-Barbour said while in isolation she not only faced extra living expenses, but was also more isolated than most due to the nature of her disabilities.

She said she had returned to work last week after roughly four months in isolation, despite the potential risk to her health.

“If I self-isolate I can’t do video calls and that sort of stuff, because of my hearing impairment. I just found that really, really hard; it was too isolating.

“My mental health went downhill, because I couldn’t communicate online, like most disabled people can. So for me, I decided to risk it and go back to work while the restrictions are quite good in South Australia.

“But I am worried that as soon as we open the borders there’s going to be a second wave of infection and as soon as that happens I’ll have to self-isolate again – I’ll have no choice.”

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