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Rent and the commodification of disability support services

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Thursday, 30 July 2015


Let me be frank. There are many stringencies that have to be faced in the provision of disability support services. We all know this whether we are residents, workers or management of support facilities, or officials of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS). We all are under the pump in an economic climate where there is widespread political anxiety about budget blow-outs and a possible collapse of our entire financial and economic system. We all know this. So when I make my professional contribution, as a resident of such a health-care facility, my recommendations and plea are complex.

I would ask that readers appreciate that I too am a citizen, a members of this polity, one who has paid my taxes, one who has worked persistently to promote the common good. Yes, what I am about to say is framed in my own interest but it is not only that. I am just as much concerned morally as any other non-disabled professional person about the serious state of our disability support services. Unless that is understood then my point will not be appreciated.

There have been developments at the level of Federal and State Government funding – negotiated through the Council of Australian Governments – that have brought about significant changes to the delivery of human services more generally and disability support services in particular. I do not have access to a research facility to adequately assess all these – I regularly seek advise from those who may know but I do not want readers to presume that I have mastered all the details of all the complex agreements, contracts and policies that are now in place.

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But nevertheless there are very important issues that, I believe, have not been and are not being, addressed and adequately communicated to residents like myself who are implicated by these decisions. So I am taking the risky route of admitting that I don't know all that I should know even if I am impelled by my professional responsibility to continue to speak up. Those who know me, and who find it almost impossible to follow my slurred speech when my speech-therapy trained personal carer is not in attendance will readily see the irony in my determination to "speak up"!

So what is my point? Is it about the line-item of rent, an increase that I believe may be beyond the affordability of most clients? Well yes it is, but it is not merely a complaint about that. And it is not just about me. Sure, I am wanting to include myself as one who will have to bear the brunt of such an increase, but I am wanting attention to be given to the context in which this increase is now being implemented.

We get an individual rate including rental allowance of $988.60 per fortnight. But our rent of $588.10 per fortnight, residential fees are currently 59%, of the full rate of the individual DSP. This leaves us clients with a minimal amount of 'disposable income' to then meet 'medical costs , including the cost of materials to adequately satisfy hygiene requirements, and other everyday expenses.

Now, as I have said, I am responsible to maintain my own professional responsibility and so, I pay $180 per month for an internet and utilities bill. (As an aside here, it would seem to me that the internet and telecommunications provider as providers of such public utilities should also be helping me keep costs down). But that does not leave much for other costs as well. I am severely constrained in what I can do and I have opportunity for only minimal social interaction! But with an increase in rent such minimal interaction looks to me like it is going to have to be miniscule!

I'm not wanting to go out and play the pokies. I am not wanting to go out every day or every night. But when Rent is increased for my residence the "open lifestyle choices" that were said to be on my horizon when I came to the facility are vanishing before my eyes. And in this I wish to flag the fact that I am experiencing a significant measure of socio-economic impoverishment that can be alleviated without much cost. At least that is what it seems to me.

John Walsh (PWC) in Disability Expectations - Investing in a Better Life, A Stronger Australia (2011) noted that poverty and disability are very closely linked. 45% of people with disability live in poverty. I suspect that when social interaction which is, in fact, unpriceable is diminished for disabled people like myself, poverty is deepened considerably, not only in psychological terms, but also in social and cultural dimensions. Think of the needs of families. Think of the contributions of friendships. This is not sentimentalism; it is reckoning with the importance of nurturing ourselves as social-emotional actors.

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Let me give an example. My birthday was in June and there were no staff to assist me to go out on that day. Even though movie watching is a dwindling pleasure, due to increasing blindness, going to the movies allows me the comfort of just joining others in this public entertainment. So I missed out. And that was when we only had eight clients in the house and now we have nine clients in the house. But it was not just me who missed out. The carer who could have come with me also missed out!

When I studied sociology some years ago we confronted the fact that impoverishment begins from a lack of accessible community engagement.

Okay, granted we are dealing with a Not for Profit service provider that pays all funds it receives back into the organisation! But then with all these rising costs, why should the brunt be worn by reduced social interaction by those who most need it? Am I simply adopting an envious or greedy ideology to suggest that the management side of the operation should also have its salary and entitlement line-item on the budget reduced? We know that managing finance requires forward planning. And so the question arises: when the service provider accepted the contract to house us clients were not these latter-day stringencies on the budgeting horizon? And such a critical question cannot simply stop there.

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This statement is a revised summary of part of "ALTRUISM, PASSION, EMPATHY, PRAGMATISM" which has been rewritten with the help of my ghost writer, former supervisor and friend, Bruce Wearne.



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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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