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Insecurity for disability support workers amidst COVID-19

Raelene West

April 29, 2020

In the face of COVID-19, disability support workers, like aged care workers, are confronted daily with the risks of contracting and transmitting the virus. Most disability support workers have little option but to work as they know the support they provide is essential to life. They also need the income. Yet these workers have been virtually invisible in current public discussions of essential services, along with the people with disability they support.

Anecdotal accounts indicate support workers are providing personal care assistance with none or only minimal advice or training on risks of the virus and how to avoid infections. Of significant concern has been the lack of access to PPE such as gloves, face masks and hand sanitiser. People with disability have been forced to purchase gloves from supermarkets and workers have been bringing masks they have purchased or even sewn themselves to shifts. With people with disability mostly restricted to their homes, support workers in group settings and community access roles have been stood down or lost hours. The current COVID-19 crisis is highlighting the risks of an individualised market-based disability support system in which there is a heavy reliance on consumer choice and control to ensure acceptable quality and safety for worker. Some of these workers are without training, oversight or supervision. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge the value of the work undertaken by this highly casualised, undervalued and low-paid workforce.

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