Election campaigns focus on support for families with disability

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
With the Federal election approaching groups supporting people with disability have begun to request commitments of support from candidates. [Source: Shutterstock]
With the Federal election approaching groups supporting people with disability have begun to request commitments of support from candidates. [Source: Shutterstock]

As the Federal election approaches, advocacy groups and unions have begun to release their demands for candidates to commit to in the hopes of garnering more support for people with disability and their families.

The election is yet to be called by the Prime Minister, but must be held before the end of May this year.

Carers Australia’s election campaign is asking for equitable access to respite, a review of the financial support system for carers and funding of advocacy services to help carers understand their rights, so that all carers can have the same quality of life as other Australians.

Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Carers Australia, Melanie Cantwell, says the organisation is seeking a commitment by all Federal parties to appropriately recognise and value unpaid carers “who underpin our health, aged care, disability care and social support systems”.

“Anyone at any time can become a carer – it is rarely a choice,” she says.

“Carers have much higher psychological distress compared to the average Australian, yet there are not significant targeted Federal Government funds to support carers’ mental health and wellbeing.”

There are more than 2.65 million carers in Australia looking after loved ones, including people with disability and mental health conditions.

The first National Carer Wellbeing Survey, conducted in 2021, showed these carers were two and a half times more likely to have low wellbeing than other Australians.

“The same survey revealed that only 19 percent of carers could easily organise support from a family member or friend if they were unwell or needed a break. This has only worsened with COVID-19 impacting on availability of those alternate support people,” explains Ms Cantwell.

“This means there is an urgent need to address access to respite care for carers. Equitable and timely respite would mean carers could, if they chose to, increase their participation in paid work or education, delivering better outcomes for community and Government as they maintain and thrive in their caring role.

“We also want to see specific mental health and wellbeing supports funded for carers in the 2022-23 Budget, including the ability for the National Carers Network to appropriately address local needs and gaps through tailored and flexible services and activities.

“This is essential during the ongoing pandemic and recovery, and to supplement Carer Gateway initiatives and COVID-19 mental health supports that are not carer-specific.”

With the last National Carers Strategy – designed to guide Government support and engagement with carers – having lapsed eight years ago, Carers Australia also believes a Minister for Carers should be appointed and that a Commissioner for Carers should be created to lead the development of a new national strategy.

More detail about Carers Australia’s proposal for the Commissioner role and the funding of other initiatives can be found in the organisation’s Federal Budget submission for 2022-23.

Autism alliance focuses on lower rates of education, employment and mental health

The Australian Autism Alliance’s election campaign notes that one in four Australians have a family member with autism, highlighting that supporting the 650,000 Australians with autism has an even further reaching community impact.

The Alliance’s campaign focuses on the fact that autistic people often have much lower rates of education, employment, physical and mental health, and social connection compared to other groups of people.

According to the Alliance, autistic people are half as likely as the general population is to complete schooling at a Year 10 level and half as likely as people with other disabilities to complete post-school education courses.

They are also three times more likely to be unemployed than people with other disabilities and eight times more likely to be unemployed than people without disability.

The suicide rate of autistic people is nine times that of the general population, with 50 to 70 percent experiencing mental health conditions and 60 percent of autistic people reporting feeling socially isolated.

With COVID-19 pandemic recovery plans being discussed in the lead up to the election, Co-Chair of the Autism Alliance, Paul Micallef, says now is the time to talk about supporting the autistic community.

“COVID-19 has also presented significant additional challenges to autistic people. Ensuring they are not forgotten in the pandemic recovery plans will be vital for those who are already facing much worse outcomes than their fellow Australians,” Mr Micallef says.

The Autism Alliance is requesting all major parties form election commitments to:

  • Develop and fund a National Autism Strategy, co-designed with autistic people and their advocates, to provide a coordinated national approach, featuring specific targets and action focussed on improving access and participation in early learning, education and training, employment rates, social and economic participation, community awareness and attitudes, health and wellbeing outcomes, justice, domestic violence and research
  • Convene an ‘Autism and COVID Summit’ in 2022 to identify initiatives in education, training, employment and mental health that address the longterm adverse health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic
  • Develop a national roadmap to improve health and mental health outcomes for autistic people
  • Ensure an enduring and effective National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) by recommitting to its original vision – focussing on the long term individual and collective benefits of the NDIS, rather than the short term costs

Co-Chair of the Alliance, Jenny Karavolos, says the four commitments will provide structure to efforts to support autistic people across Australia.

“We believe the current approach to autism policy needs a more coordinated, national approach as more and more people get diagnosed with the disability,” Ms Karavolos says.

“The Australian Autism Alliance believes by adopting these four commitments, our next Federal Government will help hundreds of thousands of autistic Australians to realise their potential and fundamentally improve their quality of life.”

Teachers’ union calls for more funding to support students with disability

The Australian Education Union (AEU), which supports school staff across Australia, says the critical underfunding of schools is impacting students who face barriers to learning and is calling for public school funding to be a key election issue.

The Union says almost all public schools are not receiving enough funding to meet the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) and provide the education that all students deserve.

The SRS is an estimate of how much total public funding a school needs to meet its students’ educational needs and is based on recommendations from the 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling.

A survey conducted by the AEU in 2021 of teachers, principals and school staff, the State of Our Schools survey, found:

  • 83 percent of all principals say they do not have sufficient resources to appropriately meet the needs of students with disability at their school
  • 89 percent of principals use funds from other budget areas to cover funding shortfalls for students with disability
  • 64 percent of principals say that students with disability or learning difficulties would benefit the most from funding schools to 100 percent of the SRS
  • 87 percent of principals say that teachers would benefit most from additional classroom support when teaching students with disability or learning difficulties

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe says, “The situation is particularly urgent in very remote schools where 95 percent of teachers have reported that the needs of students with disability at their school are not being appropriately met.

“This data clearly shows there is a critical need to ensure public schools are funded to a minimum of 100 percent of the Schooling Resource Standard.

“Every student, irrespective of their situation, deserves access to the educational opportunities that can fully harness their potential and talent. Public school principals, teachers and education support staff go above and beyond to ensure that the needs of students with disability are met and this must be backed in by governments properly funding public schools.”

Ms Haythorpe welcomed the Australian Labor Party’s election commitment, announced last month, to deliver $440 million to schools for better ventilation, building upgrades, and mental health support to help students bounce back after COVID.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the deep inequality that has long existed for students across Australia. Labor has recognised that education is the most powerful tool we have in addressing systemic inequality and disadvantage for students,” Ms Haythorpe says.

“There is clear evidence that COVID-19 has had an impact on students’ wellbeing. We welcome Labor’s planned investment in wellbeing initiatives for schools and students. These measures, such as psychologists, counsellors and specialist staff and programs, will assist schools to help students overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

“Our members have been raising the urgent need for air filtration and ventilation in schools for many months now. Labor’s commitment of $50 million for COVID-19 related capital works, including air purifiers, improved ventilation and outdoor classrooms, will help ensure students and staff can be as safe as possible.”

The Liberal Government is yet to make any announcements about post-election school funding plans, but has been vocal about its efforts to increase the amount of school funding available per student over the past decade.