We are living in extraordinary times.
Our greatest concern is for the most disadvantaged in our community who need help now, and even more than ever.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) health emergency is changing our lives in ways that we could not have imagined only a few short weeks ago.
In a crisis of this kind we must not forget we are a community, and that the most vulnerable – those who are unable to put food on the table, pay their bills and rent – need our support now.
Too many of us are already dealing with the daily hardship of poverty and disadvantage, and now this crisis will push countless more into suffering and deep distress.
The crisis will also magnify problems of social isolation and disconnection, bringing along the risks of deteriorating health, especially mental health.
We’re committed to maintaining delivery of our essential services.
Our mission at the Brotherhood of St. Laurence is to serve the most disadvantaged in the community.
Established in the depths of the Great Depression, we have worked through many challenges and crises over our 90 years. Our services are essential and are needed now more than ever.
We have modified our programs and services where needed to ensure we can keep delivering them, and we are keeping our community stores open for as long as we can because we know how much a bit of stability can mean for people in times of uncertainty.
We are also checking in on the people we serve, offering extra help where can. This includes our NDIS Services team working to ensure that people with disability are able to access the supports that they need, and that any participants who experience an interruption to services know who to call for assistance. It also includes ensuring we check in more regularly with the most vulnerable participants in our programs, who are now more disconnected and isolated than ever before, and delivering essentials to some of our Home Care Package clients. We are also exploring how we can use our resources to more broadly help those in our community who are affected by the COVID-19 virus, so that they can get the care they need.
And of course, we are doing our bit to help ‘flatten the curve’ by following the latest public health guidelines from government, and adapting or postponing classes and events as necessary.
Now is the time for urgent social justice measures.
We have been advocating with both the Federal and Victorian Governments, including communications to both the Prime Minister and Premier, and also joining forces with community sector colleagues to drive urgent social justice responses.
We welcome measures announced to-date by the Federal Government including: temporary doubling of the Jobseeker Payment (an important step towards more permanent repair of Australia’s frayed safety net); additional bonuses for Aged Pensioners, Disability Pensioners and Carers; a substantial injection of support into home support, community and residential aged care services; NDIS measures; extension of business assistance measures to small/medium Not for Profits; and measures to protect remote First Nations communities from the pandemic.
The Victorian Government’s homelessness support measures, and jobs and business stimulus package are also very welcome. We will be playing our part in helping to roll these out, including helping redeploy workers into areas of urgent need through our employment assistance programs.
Further social justice measures will be required which we will continue to advocate for including:
- Extending the safety net to groups currently ineligible for social security protections. This includes People Seeking Asylum living in the Australian community who have been cut off from the Status Resolution Support Service.
- Lifting post-secondary student (Youth Allowance Student) and apprenticeship payments to reflect increased JobSeeker Payments to ensure there is no financial disincentive to study/training.
- Increasing energy concession rates – more time at home will mean higher energy bills. Avoiding heating in cold weather to reduce energy bills will exacerbate respiratory conditions.
- A moratorium on disconnections, pausing debt collection and waiving penalty and late fees for all essential services.
- Advancing work agreed by COAG on preventing evictions for people unable to pay their rent.
- Further measures to keep the community sector running and supporting vulnerable communities, including supports for larger organisations who are above the current ($50M annual turnover) threshold for assistance.
- Providing phone and data plans to connect vulnerable communities with supports - the move to online and virtual platforms is exacerbating the digital divide.
- Rolling out additional Home Care Packages to ensure those on the waitlist (currently over 120,000) are not left isolated and without care.
- Rapid deployment of additional care workers through training incentives, fast tracking of qualifications and micro-credentialing of key skills sets e.g. infection control.
As the crisis unfolds, we will continue to be informed about measures needed by our frontline services, the communities they work with and others directly impacted.
Now is also the time for compassion.
Join us in supporting the most vulnerable in our community today.
I was touched by the story of one woman who was moved to tears when her landlord sent her and other tenants a message saying: “…if you are affected financially...I would like to reassure you that you are safe in your home…we will work through it together.” This is a wonderfully generous act that shows there are better ways to respond than to panic and take more than you need.
More than ever, this is the time to show our compassion for those around us. Check in on your elderly neighbours and make sure they have essentials at home; drop in a meal to someone who you know can’t leave their home; give someone a call to let them know they’re not alone. These are small things each of us can do today.
You can also join us by supporting our efforts to keep our vital services going and serve even more people experiencing disadvantage as a result of this crisis. When you make a donation to the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, it will go to supporting our 60+ vital services supporting the most vulnerable in our community.
The situation is rapidly evolving. As events unfold we remain staunchly committed to our cause to advocate for those most disadvantaged in our community and our mission, for a fairer, more compassionate, and just society. And we encourage all of us at this time to stand together and be the community that we aspire to be. Please join us in our mission.
Executive Director, Brotherhood of St. Laurence
Please visit the Department of Health website for more updates