Vulnerable groups missing out on COVID-19 support
17 July 2020 at 5:04 pm
New research calls for the government to widen its support during the coronavirus crisis
Australia’s COVID-19 response needs a stronger focus on the structural problems that were prevalent pre-pandemic to ensure vulnerable people aren’t left behind, experts say.
A new report from the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) said the federal government’s current approach to the crisis revolved around supporting the economy until it “went back to normal” – which was evident in its JobKeeper scheme and the temporary JobSeeker boost.
But researchers said this approach overlooked existing structural problems and meant some vulnerable groups – such as casual workers, temporary visa holders and people with a disability – were excluded from support.
Lead researcher Dr Jeremiah Brown, from the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW Sydney, said the effects of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown on Australian society were complex and still unfolding.
“From a financial wellbeing perspective, the most significant change we have already observed is that many households have seen their income reduced,” Brown said.
“The impact varies by household, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 2.3 million people were affected by job loss or had their hours adjusted for economic reasons between April and May.”
Brown told Pro Bono News that to better manage these impacts, the government should consider taking a principle-based approach, which could be based on a principle such as leaving no one behind.
“One of the important things to think about from a principle perspective is what kind of structural issues existed in the economy prior to the pandemic,” he said.
“We also need to think about what kind of economy we want to have when we recover from the crisis.”
Some of the report’s recommendations to improve Australia’s response include featuring short-term casuals in JobKeeper, increasing financial support for temporary visa holders and people on the Disability Support Pension, and ensuring vulnerable people aren’t evicted when the eviction freeze ends.
Brown said more support was also needed for the charity and not-for-profit sector.
He noted that the recent Community Sector Impact Survey found that 70 per cent of charities felt their viability was under threat as a result of COVID-19, while a third said the threat was “significant”.
He called for more tailored support for organisations that were particularly struggling and said the sector could also be helped if the government worked to reduce service demand.
“Because vulnerable groups are being excluded, they’re ending up seeking the help of NGOs because often charities are the ones filling the gaps in our current support structure,” he said.
“But we can reduce the demand on their services by increasing the number of people we’re offering government support to.”