Rental crisis for disability care workers worsened by COVID-19

Posted 2 years ago by Liz Alderslade
Around nine areas in Australia would be requiring disability support workers to put more than two-thirds of their weekly pay into rent. [Source: Shutterstock]
Around nine areas in Australia would be requiring disability support workers to put more than two-thirds of their weekly pay into rent. [Source: Shutterstock]

Rental affordability for COVID-19 essential staff is in crisis with workers, including the disability support workforce, having to put most of their weekly pay towards their rent to remain living in the city they work.

Everybody’s Home, the national campaign against homelessness, utilised available rent data and compared that against the basic hourly wage of essential workers, including disability support, who receive $22.30 an hour (Level 1. Pay Point 2), and have released their findings to mark the start of National Homelessness Week, 1 – 7 August 2021.

It shows the huge disadvantages workers in the disability sector face to pay for their rental accommodation even if they work a 38 hour week.

Regions that disability support workers were likely to sacrifice over two-thirds of their weekly wage (hours worked to pay rent) are:

  • Australian Capital Territory: South (26 hours), North (28.3 hours), Inner South (25.3 hours), Inner North (26.5 hours). 

  • New South Wales: Sydney CBD (31.4 hours), Northern Beaches, 27.6 (hours), Lower North Shore (27.8 hours), Eastern Suburbs (26.4 hours)

  • Queensland: Gold Coast South (26.5 hours)

National spokesperson for Everybody’s Home, Kate Colvin, says that the current Australian housing system is not working for everyday Australians.

“The pandemic has reminded us how critically important our carers and service workers are. Yet these pandemic heroes are being badly let down by the housing system and are often priced out of the communities they serve,” explains Ms Colvin.

“While eye-watering rents are worst in our major cities, essential workers are increasingly priced out of coastal and bush communities too. People with big city incomes are moving to the regions and totally warping the rental markets. 

“It’s astonishing that a care or service worker simply could not afford a modest apartment in the overwhelming majority of our suburbs and regions.”

Rental analysis has found that a further 78 geographic regions in Australia would require an essential worker to spend between one-third or two-thirds of their weekly wage towards renting an apartment. 

People with disability were identified as a priority group in the Government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as were the people who worked closest with this group. However, disability support workers were also put on the backburner, like people with disability, so the Government could finish vaccinating aged care residents

Many disability support workers have struggled to access the vaccine when they actively want to get vaccinated and have been penciled in for the jab months later.

With access being a problem, there are also “what ifs” for workers around negative reactions to the vaccine, as taking days off in some cases is just not possible.

Disability support workers, like many other health industries, are largely casual, leading many employees not wanting to take time off work sick as they won’t receive any income during that period.

Natalie Lang, Secretary of the Australian Services Union NSW and ACT, previously said that disability support workers deserved to be vaccinated against COVID so they can continue doing their important work.

“Workers in the disability sector do some of the most important and challenging jobs in this country, so the Federal Government has a responsibility to help them do their jobs safely,” says Ms Lang.

“The other key driver is concern about the impact on pay, workers are worried about taking time out to be vaccinated and they’re worried about not working if they feel sick afterward.” 

“These are people who often don’t have any leave entitlements to dip into and constantly need to assess their day-to-day budgets.”

Instead, disability support workers may decide to continue working while sick, which could potentially put people with disability at group homes at risk.

Only recently, over 85 Sydney disability support workers at a Parklea group home have temporarily lost their job as they quarantine after a worker tested positive for the virus.

For many disability workers, a damaging outbreak in a disability group home could be financially crippling.

Ms Colvin says, “We must expand social and affordable housing. This will relieve the pressure on our rental market and give Australians on low and modest incomes more options. All over the country, our caring and service workers simply can’t compete for rental properties. 

“These are the people who got us through the pandemic. We must find a way to let them live close to their work.

“Expecting an exhausted aged care or supermarket worker to commute 90 minutes to and from work just to afford the rent is totally unfair and unsustainable. Australia can do better.”

Everybody’s Home has a five point campaign that they believe would solve the issue of homelessness in Australia, including support for first home-buyers, a national housing strategy, better deals for renters, immediate relief for Australians in chronic rental stress, and a plan to end homelessness by 2030.

National Homelessness Week aims to raise awareness about homelessness nationally by connecting with communities and providing information on the importance of housing as a solution to homelessness.

To learn more about Homelessness Week, visit the Homelessness Australia website. Or to view the End Homelessness campaign plan, visit the Everybody’s Home website