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There is mounting evidence that COVID-19 is afflicting a disproportionately large number of the poor, homeless and needy in Australia, as well as those with low paid and insecure jobs.

Sadly, these people do not have the financial means to protect themselves from the pandemic in the same way as those who are better off – notably but not exclusively by the precautionary use of face masks.

In NSW the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, strongly urges everyone to wear face masks for their own protection, as well as the community’s. However, the poor can’t afford face masks.

A pack of 50 disposable face masks can cost up to $60. That’s money the poor simply don’t have. They struggle just to put food on the table and pay rent, so even with the best of intentions they’re unlikely to have cash left over to purchase masks.

The answer to this problem is simple: Provide free face masks. However, it seems beyond the wit of those in power.

What I am saying is that most of our politicians are blind to the problems faced by the poor, homeless and needy because they have little or no lived experience of poverty. This inevitably means they focus attention on the issues confronting those they are more familiar with instead.

In some ways this may be the logical conclusion of the old Thatcherite notion that there is no community per se, just collections of individuals. In these COVID times, when we’re told we are all in this together, the idea of the supremacy of the individual seems somewhat redundant.

Indeed, we are now seeing the emptiness of this rhetoric. The poor have been consigned to overcrowded tower blocks and estates with little or no meaningful support, as are those in overcrowded, low cost boarding houses. Those concentrations risk becoming centres from which this pandemic can spread and affect the entire community.

I worry our politicians are not up to dealing with the endemic issues this pandemic has laid bare. So many of them live in a bubble which is only penetrated by lobbyists for the rich and powerful. I don’t think many politicians’ eyes have been fixed on the poor for decades.

If we are to truly get through this pandemic together, surely we have a moral obligation to ensure every member of the community is equally supported – no matter what their station in life. And that includes access the protective face masks for all.

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  1. richard mews 10 August 2020 at 10:05 - Reply

    One of the problems is as you say the cost of masks , in Thailand , which is a great deal poorer than Sydney , everybody has a mask , so it is not an insuperable problem .

  2. Chonyi Taylor 10 August 2020 at 10:33 - Reply

    The Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601 made parishes legally responsible for the care of those within their boundaries who, through age or infirmity, were unable to work. The Act essentially classified the poor into one of three groups. It proposed that the able-bodied be offered work in a house of correction (the precursor of the workhouse), where the “persistent idler” was to be punished.[5] It also proposed the construction of housing for the impotent poor, the old and the infirm, although most assistance was granted through a form of poor relief known as outdoor relief – money, food, or other necessities given to those living in their own homes, funded by a local tax on the property of the wealthiest in the parish.

    I don’t think much has changed!

  3. Gordon Robertson 10 August 2020 at 10:50 - Reply

    I have to agree with you Bill, and i am afraid that when things settle down the problems of poverty and poor wages for many people who have to depend upon casual work and usually at different places, will be glossed over and not properly considered.

  4. Jim Mein 10 August 2020 at 11:43 - Reply

    Spot on Bill. Keep embarrassing the Governments at all three levels.

  5. Joanna van Kool 10 August 2020 at 12:09 - Reply

    How true. I fear our po.itical system does not lend itself to caring beyond the next election. It would be lovely to think our leaders were sincerely concenrned for those less well off. Sadly that is not the reality. We all have to help each other at this time.

  6. Kay Schmidt 10 August 2020 at 18:03 - Reply

    In Victoria, our government is providing face masks and has housed the homeless in hotels. It is providing/funding food parcels, along with charities, for those that need them. It has just announced major spending on mental health care. What we need to focus on is making governments super aware that the community will not countenance anything less than major spending on new welfare housing when the pandemic dust clears. People can not begin to rebuild their lives until they have a secure roof over their heads.

  7. Penni Moussa 10 August 2020 at 18:49 - Reply

    Agree with you 100% Bill! Penni (Sydney Recovery)

  8. Damian Collins 10 August 2020 at 23:54 - Reply

    Hi Bill, Yes definitely – poor people should be given free masks. I just wish to raise something on a related note, if I may? I feel we are still getting mixed messages about wearing face masks… As you say, the NSW govt now strongly recommend everyone wear a face mask in public places. But it’s left to the individuals to go to the effort of getting masks (e.g. buying them over the internet, or I think you can go to the chemist too (?)). Perhaps not a terribly arduous task, but not everyone is so motivated to go to the trouble. If they *really* want everyone to wear masks, I think they need to make it as easy as they can… For instance, distribute the masks so you can get them from virtually any retail outlet – supermarkets, service stations, newsagents, post offices etc. I think the govt could do this if they really wanted to. I note also that, at Eastgardens shopping centre today (Aug 10), hardly anyone wore a mask (including most retail staff). I guess either people are not aware, or don’t think the govt is really serious, and/or it’s too much of a hassle anyway… Or they don’t know where to get a mask in the first place…. Anyway, yes, free masks given out to poor people who can’t afford it. There’s been hardly anything in the media about their plight in these times that I can see.

  9. Alex 12 August 2020 at 19:25 - Reply

    An extra $500 per fn (NewStart, Jobseeker allowance) could buy a lot of face masks. Or you could buy a few washable ones.

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