Lack of support for people with disability, royal commission told

August 18, 2020

A woman with a disability went without a support worker for four days amid fears she and her husband may have been exposed to coronavirus.

Tasmanian woman Tammy Milne had to rely on a friend for food and care after her support worker failed to show one afternoon because the worker might have been exposed to coronavirus.

The revelation left Ms Milne and her husband, who has a chronic illness, in shock.

“It invaded our home without our consent,” Ms Milne said.

“Basically, if Phillip and I got COVID, we’d be dead. It’s not like we could survive because of our complex medical issues.”

She said efforts then to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) were fruitless.

“I just couldn’t get PPE anywhere. I saw Scott Morrison saying PPE was being provided and I was like, ‘Hello, where is mine?’ There was none.”

The disability royal commission was told on Tuesday the Federal Government’s health emergency response plan for COVID-19 failed to mention people with disabilities.

The COVID-19 plan released in February mentioned the aged care sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people but not people with a disability, the commission heard.

“People with disability and their advocates watched and waited to hear the Commonwealth Government’s plan for people with disability,” counsel assisting, Kate Eastman SC, said.

It wasn’t until April, weeks after a pandemic was declared, that a federal plan was formed for people with a disability.

There has also been an absence of data on the impact of COVID-19 on the 4.4 million people with disability in Australia.

“This is concerning,” Ms Eastman said.

The inquiry will this week hear how many disability advocacy groups were inundated with calls for help for even basic items like food and incontinence pads and appropriate PPE.

Chair Ronald Sackville QC said it was clear from the outset of the pandemic people with disability were likely to be disproportionately affected, often having multiple health conditions that increase the risk of infection.

A witness, referred to as AAV, who cares full time for her four children who each have a disability, told the hearing she was a “trapped-at-home mum”.

“Even before COVID-19 we’ve been trapped in our house, no longer a home, but more a prison,” she said.

She said she gets a carer’s allowance of $9 a day despite “working 24 hours a day”.

“For my family, it’s a life sentence of isolation, despair and exhaustion.

“We’re the forgotten members of this society.”

The inquiry also heard of the increase of violence against women during the pandemic.

The hearing continues.

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