Monday, 26 October 2020
Foodbank, Aged Care
The COVID pandemic has put many of our most vulnerable in a state of crisis. Two particular areas of concern in my electorate are food insecurity and aged care. Recently I had the opportunity to visit Foodbank New South Wales and talk to their CEO, John Robertson. John has long been a passionate advocate for those in the community who need support. Foodbank provides fresh and packaged food for charities and community groups supporting those in our community who need it most. On the day that I was there there were fresh mandarins, lettuce and mountains of bread, as well as other staples such as pasta and canned tomatoes—a full list of varied and amazing products being kept out of landfill and helping people. Foodbank also supports breakfast clubs in schools, and during the disastrous bushfires and floods at the beginning of 2020 they helped get food to people in need all over New South Wales.
Too many school children start the day without breakfast because of circumstances beyond their control. Giving them breakfast not only helps with their learning and behaviour but helps families as well. Foodbank works with the entire Australian food and grocery sector, including farmers, wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers, to address issues of food waste by redirecting product from landfill. Unsurprisingly, demand for food relief has surged this year. By the end of September, demand was up 47 per cent over pre-COVID times, with a further spike of 25 per cent expected as JobKeeper and JobSeeker are rolled back. Statistics from Foodbank suggest that 43 per cent of food-insecure Australians are now going without eating for a whole day each week. This compares with 30 per cent a year ago.
Australia has a reputation for being a wealthy country, but even so, food insecurity is a reality for an increasing number of us. With work drying up, casual workers and international students are facing real crisis as they go hungry, because there's no means to buy even the basics. Universities such as Western Sydney University have supported their international students, but many other students are feeling the strain. Two-fifths of Australians experience food insecurity because they are low-income earners, pensioners, casual workers, jobseekers or workers who go without food to pay their mortgage or rent. Foodbank helps bridge these gaps, and I commend the volunteers and thank the CEO, John Robertson, for the important work being done to ensure our fellow Australians don't go hungry.
Aged care in this country was in crisis long before COVID put extra pressure on services. The royal commission's interim report last October made it clear that there were symptomatic failures in the sector. This is not what we as a community should accept for our seniors. They deserve dignity, respect and support. Recently, I met with representatives of the Health Services Union—dedicated aged-care kitchen staff, cleaners and cooks. They told me about personal sacrifices they've been making during the crisis. For nine months they've isolated from friends and family so they could provide care for their residents and not unknowingly introduce COVID-19 into their facilities—all this for minimum hours or four-hour contracts, often for no more than $21.97 per hour and no paid overtime. They're also not afforded sick leave or paid leave when they need to take a COVID test. While many have lost hours and jobs because they can't work in more than one facility, they're not eligible for JobKeeper. They also weren't eligible for the aged-care retention bonus.
The overwhelming thing that came out in my conversations with these workers was the care they have for their residents. They speak of the residents as their family. They are distressed because management cutting costs means they don't have enough time for a quick conversation to ease the loneliness of residents. I was told that during COVID and lockdown residents have become depressed and lonely because no-one could visit. Having the time to have a chat over morning tea would make such a difference in their lives, but these workers have been told that, if they don't finish their workload—their increased workload because of COVID—there is no paid overtime and if they don't do their jobs it's the patients who miss out again.
Day after day the evidence mounts of serious neglect in aged care, and all we see from the government is an avoidance of the acceptance of responsibility for the failures. The recession we are currently in is the deepest in almost a century, and I fear decisions by this government will continue to make it worse for the most vulnerable of our Australians.