Additional help is at hand
But as the worst public health crisis of our generation tightens its grip, the signs are there that we are struggling on both a health and economic front.
As such the federal government has announced a series of financial packages aimed at cushioning the financial blow for those that work and those that employ them.
In recognising the anxiety and fear felt by many of its residents, the government has now turned its attention to addressing the secondary impacts of the virus courtesy of a $1.1 billion package that boosts mental health services and increases domestic violence support.
The initiative, which is being rolled out immediately, also offers emergency food relief as well as delivering Medicare assistance for people at home.
How the package is broken up
- $669 million will be provided to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services
- $150 million will be provided to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence
- $74 million will be provided to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians.
- $200 million will be provided to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief
Medicare support at home
To take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments while supporting self-isolation and quarantine policies, strata residents will be able to access support using their telephone, or video conferencing features to connect with GP services. The types of assistance on offer through this method include access to mental health treatment or chronic disease management, pregnancy support counselling and after-hours consultations with nurse practitioners.
The new arrangements will be in place until 30 September 2020, when they will be reviewed.
Domestic violence support
Searches for domestic violence have surged 75 per cent since the onslaught of COVID-19.
To help support those experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, the government is providing additional funding to boost programs under under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children including:
- Counselling support for families affected by, or at risk of experiencing, domestic and family violence including men’s behaviour change programs which will provide a short, medium- and longer-term response to support men.
- Domestic Violence Line: 1800 65 64 63
- 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, which already answers around 160,000 calls a year.
- Mensline Australia the national counselling service for men that provides support for emotional health and relationship concerns for men affected by or considering using violence.
- Support programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice, when it is safe to do so.
- Child Protection Line: 132 111
Meetings will take place next week to discuss with the states and territories how to best deliver this funding to support local responses to this issue.
Mental Health Support
The bulk of the funding will go towards the government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health, which will be a single source of authoritative information and guidance on how to maintain good mental health during the coronavirus pandemic and in self-isolation.
A new national communications campaign, delivered in conjunction with the National Mental Health Commission, will provide information about maintaining mental wellbeing, raise awareness of the signs of when you or a loved one needs to get additional assistance, and where to find further information, support and care.
A dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line, delivered by Beyond Blue, will be created to help people experiencing concern due to a coronavirus diagnosis, or experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges.
A $14 million boost will be given to mental health support providers who have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes. This will include $5 million for Lifeline and $2 million for Kids Helpline. The funding will also bolster other existing services, including digital peer-support to people with urgent, severe and complex mental illness who may be experiencing additional distress at this time.
The Community Visitors Scheme will also receive $10 million to ensure older Australians in aged care are not socially isolated despite visiting restrictions. The funding will mean extra staff to train volunteer visitors, who will connect with older people in aged care online and by phone, and assist older Australians keep in touch with the community and loved ones.
To help younger Australians stay on track in their education and training and prepare them for the workforce, $6.75 million will be provided to deliver the headspace digital work and study service.
In addition, $28.3 million will be utilised to continue to deliver psychosocial support to Commonwealth community mental health clients for a further 12 months. This will allow additional time for people with severe and complex mental illness to complete their applications and testing for support under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Relief services for vulnerable Australians
As demand surges, a multi-million dollar fund will be made available to provide support to charities and other community organisations that provide emergency and food relief.
Emergency Relief which will help vulnerable Australians who need assistance with bills, food, clothing or petrol while assistance will also be provided for food relief organisations (such as OzHarvest) to source additional food and transport for emergency relief service providers (including Disaster Assist), and rebuild workforce capacity.
Services through the National Debt Helpline will be upscaled while a short-form Financial Counselling course will be made available to train new financial counsellors to boost the workforce, potentially providing hundreds of new jobs.
Access to safe, affordable financial products through the No Interest Loan Scheme will also be increased.
In making the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he and his ministers were “focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods”. He noted this new support package would provide much needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own.
“We will get through this crisis by staying together, by supporting each other and ensuring that no Australian, even though we have to be isolated, should have to go through this alone.”
In addition to the above services, about a million families will have access to free child care under the Federal Government’s relief package.
Under the plan, the government will pay half the reasonable fee cap to centres for the next six months as long as they remain open and don’t charge parents any fees.
The Australian Government has launched a Jobs Hub website to help Australians find work during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Jobs Hub advertises the latest vacancies from businesses across Australia.