Australia Disability advocates call on federal government to increase income support as COVID-19 pandemic lingers
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Astrid Watts knows how hard it is to get by on disability support.
The 38-year-old university student has 11 complex disabilities, including autism, hearing loss, and vision impairment.
Ms Watts lives in Canberra and with skyrocketing rents across the capital, most of her pension is spent keeping a roof over her head.
"In Canberra, it's virtually impossible for disability pensioners to rent privately," Ms Watts said.
She said there was very little leftover once food, bills, medical costs and other essentials were covered.
"I know of some people who are rationing medications just to survive," she said.
But Ms Watts is one of the lucky ones, with her family chipping in to help her get by.
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Advocates call for government assistance
Disability advocates have called on the federal government to increase income support for people with a disability by at least $50 per week.
The call was made in an ACT Council of Social Service (ACTOSS) submission to the federal inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the disability support pension.
ACTCOSS said disability support pensioners were left out in the cold when the government introduced COVID-19 economic support measures, which included coronavirus supplement payments and increasing JobSeeker by $25 per week.
ACTCOSS acting chief executive Craig Wallace said introducing a disability and illness supplement of $50 per week would mean the government recognised the additional costs faced by people with disabilities.
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"People with disabilities were completely ignored during the pandemic, people on DSP [disability support pension] were the only group of people not to receive the coronavirus supplement, in the meantime, we also saw services fall away," Mr Wallace said.
"It's time the government stepped up and provided some good support to people with disabilities … and look at how they can support people through a public health emergency."
Mr Wallace also urged the federal government to abolish the program of support requirements and remove impediments to people with episodic disabilities who were trying to access support payments.
"Our submission contains harrowing accounts of Canberrans who have struggled to survive while trying to obtain the DSP," he said.
Coronavirus supplement a temporary solution
A spokeswoman for the federal Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said the coronavirus supplement was a temporary measure put in place in recognition that the pandemic directly impeded people's ability to find and retain employment.
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"Pensions, including the Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment are long-term payments and are typically paid at the highest rate of support in the system – significantly higher than the JobSeeker base rate – because recipients are not expected to work to support themselves due to age, disability or caring responsibilities," the spokeswoman said.
"However, we know the pandemic has been difficult for many Australians which is why the government provided pensioners and eligible cardholders with four economic support payments, totalling $2,000."
The spokeswoman said emergency relief and food relief was also available as a part of the $200 million Community Support Package, "providing vulnerable Australians with food hampers, clothing, petrol, vouchers or financial help with bills."
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