News Articles and analysis

Caring for Victoria’s carers in the COVID crisis

COVID-19 ISSUES ALERT

While COVID-19 is a national and international disaster, there could be a few unforeseen consequences that aren’t all bad. 

One possible good that might come from the crisis is a change in how we view different kinds of work.

In our society, jobs in ‘feminised’ industries like community services have traditionally not received much by way of financial reward or status.

But what we’re learning in this crisis is that much of the work that keeps our society functioning is care work.

Health care, child care, aged care. These are some of the essential services that have kept Victoria going while most of us shelter at home.

And then there are the people who continue to provide essential care in unpaid roles. If you’re one of the Victorians in these roles, chances are you can never clock off.

A carer might be a parent, partner, friend, child or other relative of someone who needs care. They help with personal care, health care, transport and household work.

Almost three-quarters of a million Victorians are someone’s carer, including almost 240,000 primary carers, who play key roles in assisting with communication, mobility and self care.

These Victorians face a raft of new challenges during the pandemic, including lost income (for those carers juggling their unpaid caring role with paid employment) and increased cost-of-living pressures, while the work they do is made both harder and less visible by the conditions of lockdown.

Here are eight things that Victorian carers need to get through the next few months.

 

1. Financial support

Despite the increased financial pressure on carers, the $550 fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement that goes to other Centrelink recipients has not been extended to people who receive the Carer Payment. This is unfair and unsustainable. Kerry Janten is a carer for her son Luke, who has a disability. As she puts it: “People with disability and carers are also suffering massive financial setbacks in the coronavirus economic downturn, due to changes in expenses and income… A fair and equitable way to address the unprecedented crisis would be to top up everyone’s fortnightly Centrelink payments.”

 

 

 

2. Support to stay safe

Many carers are concerned about hygiene control measures, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and the risk of COVID-19 entering their home through a support worker or from the carer themselves.  While testing criteria – and access to testing – have now been expanded in Victoria to include anyone with symptoms, more support is needed for carers to keep their homes safe and clean to reduce the risk of the virus impacting the people they care for. This includes access to PPE and cleaning supplies, as well as priority access to testing and test results.

 

 

3. Emergency respite accommodation and support

If unpaid carers need to self-isolate, or are unwell and unable to provide care, what accommodation and support options are available for them and for the people they support? While the Victorian Government has announced a boost to respite care for carers who become ill and need to self-isolate, further planning and resources are needed for these situations, including access to alternative accommodation for carers, and accessible emergency accommodation and support for those who need it when their carers can’t be there.

 

 

4. Access to essentials

Carers have been happy to see the measures many supermarkets have put in place to help them access essentials: things like priority shopping times and expanded eligibility to allow carers, family and friends to access essentials on behalf of the people they support. However, once supplies are restored across all stores, supermarkets should provide additional support by removing or increasing the limits on staples and hygiene products, to ensure people at higher risk from COVID-19 and those who care for them can follow stay-at-home guidelines and reduce their supermarket visits.

 

 

5. Clarity in NDIS cancellation policy

While the NDIS has made a number of positive changes in response to the pandemic, the cancellation policy changes are presenting concerns for some participants, carers and families. Participants must now give 10 days’ notice to cancel a service (up from two days), which means in some instances providers are still being paid when participants are not receiving a service. This could have big impacts on participants’ NDIS funding and, in turn, might reduce the amount of support they can receive. The cancellation policy changes and all other NDIS measures need to be clearly communicated to NDIS participants and carers.

 

 

6. Respect for visitor guidelines

Early in the pandemic, visitor restrictions were introduced for residential services, including disability and aged care facilities. However, some providers are imposing blanket bans on all visitors. This is not in line with government directives and cuts people off from their families for social and support needs. Family carers need clarity and consistency in visiting guidelines, and governments must ensure directives are fairly followed by all residential care providers.

 

 

7. Remote services that work for all carers

Phone-based and online services like advisory lines, counselling and support services are helping a growing number of carers. However, some of these programs will need additional funding to meet increased demand. It’s also important to acknowledge that digital solutions don’t work for everyone; for example, older carers may find it harder to access online services.

 

 

8. Help for new carers

As more Victorians move in with family in the face of new work or financial circumstances, a lot more people could become informal carers. Some of these people might not even recognise that they’re filling this role, may not have the skills or support they need and won’t know where to go for help. How will new carers be connected to support, both during the pandemic and beyond?

 

Carers make an enormous contribution to our society. In economic terms, the national cost of replacing them has been estimated at over $60 billion annually.

They often do this important work out of love, but it can come at huge personal cost.

Carers need support and resources, and during the Covid-19 crisis more than ever their work needs to be seen, valued and supported.

Anything less is an unacceptable lack of care.