Community sector calls for government to ensure access to COVID19 testing

ACOSS calls on the Federal and State Governments to ensure all people can access COVID-19 testing, with a priority on people on the lowest incomes, and community organisations who support them.

Charities and front-line services have already spent tens of thousands of dollars buying Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) so they can provide them to staff and clients who can’t afford them.

ACOSS President Peter McNamara said:

“It’s a massive policy shift from providing free PCR testing to everyone, to expecting people and organisations to pay for their own Rapid Antigen Tests, if they can get hold of them. This is the worst time of the year for a sudden change of government policy like this – made without any consultation or warning, or any plan to manage the impacts.

“Some of our member organisations have told us they have paid $20,000 or more to buy bulk RATs for their clients who can’t afford to pay $70 or more for a kit of 5, even if they could find one available. Scarcity is driving prices up with some chemists selling individual tests for $25 each.

“We are calling on the Federal and State/Territory Governments to provide free RATs to those most at risk from COVID-19 and the frontline essential services who support them. We are most concerned about almost 3 million people living below the poverty line, including a million children, those who are homeless, fleeing domestic violence, who live with disability or struggling to survive on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or Parenting Payments, and First Nations people, especially those who live in remote locations.

“This is the time of year when people struggling to survive on inadequate social security payments have the least access to cash, as many have spent any savings they had on Christmas presents and food.”

“It’s also happening at the worst time of year for community organisations – as most are on skeleton staffing with offices closed and key staff on leave.

Anglicare Australia A/CEO Maiy Azize said:

“At the worst point in the pandemic, the Government has offloaded its responsibility for testing onto average Australians. People on the lowest incomes are the ones paying the price.

“Charities are picking up the pieces on testing so that vital services, like emergency relief, can stay open.”

“It shouldn’t be up to everyone else to make the testing system work. It’s time for the Government to step up and take responsibility.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO, Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM said:

“It’s an outrage that charities who work with some of the most vulnerable communities, like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on Rapid Antigen Tests so they can keep their doors open to keep these communities safe.

“Keeping vulnerable families safe also ensures all of Australian society is safer from COVID-19.”