Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Paola Harvey's speech to Illawarra Community Care forum

A 2007 study showed that 56 per cent of carers who look after relatives with disability or mentally illness or look after relatives that are frail aged would be classified as moderately depressed compared with 6 per cent of the general population. Almost 40 per cent of the carers fell in the "severe" to "extremely severe" range of depression. At the time of the report, 2.6 million Australians were carers.

This is the effect our underfunded, under-resourced community care sector is having on people’s lives. The system is failing.

Life outcomes for people with disability and their families are worse than for any other population group of people in society. This is evidenced in numerous government reports across the board. It is worse for women, people who are culturally and linguistically diverse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Access and eligibility to support, services, equipment and aids differs greatly depending on the circumstances of how disability was acquired.

My own experiences working in the care industry showed there is a high turnover of staff. Staffing levels just aren’t high enough for the workload and governments have devalued and underfunded care work. It’s traditionally seen as women’s work and has an over-representation of women in the workforce. Around 85% of workers in the community sector are women.

Over 60% of community workers have tertiary qualifications, yet earn less than average weekly earnings. If they did the same job in the public service the pay rates would be 30% to 50% higher. The cost of not addressing this pay inequity will be felt in services that cannot continue because community organisations cannot attract and retain the vital staff they need. This is the price if we don’t achieve pay equity in this sector.

The ASU’s equal pay case is trying to correct this inequity for community sector workers. The Socialist Alliance completely supports the ASU’s equal pay case. This year the International Women’s day rally is focusing on the equal pay case, Sat March 12 12.30pm Amphitheatre in the mall. I’m one of the people that’s been involved in helping to organise the event. Socialist Alliance doesn’t give lip-service support, we give support on the ground.

So what’s Socialist Alliance’s vision of an alternative to this failing system?

Socialist Alliance aims to achieve the full participation of people with disability and their families in society as valued members of the community, the political system including the socialist movement, the education system and the workforce. We believe that by improving the environmental, structural, service and support options to people with disability, the flow on effect will be of improvement to the family and carers. Structures that support empowerment, self-determination, access and inclusion encourage a healthy community with healthy values.

Working people regardless of whether they are with or without disability, have a human right to universal, free, quality disability support, aids and equipment that fosters independence and is responsive to people's changing needs.

We need a system that is focussed on best outcomes for the people accessing the services as well as their families and good pay and conditions for workers. It must put people first.

Social inclusion and the ability to reach the services that are available at the moment are a challenge for many people with disability or frail aged, and one of the prime reasons for that is access to transport. Socialist Alliance stands for making public transport free and accessible. All new public transport vehicles need to be fully and independently accessible to all types of motorised scooters and wheelchairs and signed including emergency systems for vision impairment and deafness. We need to retrofit or replace existing trains, trams and buses for accessibility, unless replacement is more cost effective. We also need community transport that is door to door, and door to public transport services to be implemented that is adequately resourced to meet demand of local areas.

We need guaranteed free respite services to all families of people with disability or frail aged, ranging from caring within the home, to occasional care to residential care. For children in state care and for aged care, respite services and residential care needs be controlled by residents, families/caregivers and independent advocates. They must be adequately funded to ensure quality of life and individual choice for all residents so that they can live with dignity and independence.

Early intervention is critical for all children with developmental delay, diagnosed or undiagnosed and children with disability. Funding must be provided to eliminate all waiting lists for early intervention services. Special programs need to be developed for young children who need speech therapy in languages other than English so that their therapy is being conducted in a language the children are learning to speak, as well as introducing them to English. To do this we need to recruit child development and speech therapists from overseas that can help migrant families to access relevant early intervention programs.

No caps on equipment and aids, services and support.

Socialist Alliance puts people and the environment first. All our policies reflect that, but to win the change we’re talking about, voting isn’t enough. We need to build grassroots movements that are capable of winning these changes, and involve people in the struggle for true equality for all.

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