The burden of illness on society and the individual

Chronic diseases are becoming more prevalent in humanity today as we are living longer due to advances in medical science and care.  A chronic illness or disease is defined as one that is long-lasting or recurrent and its impact can range from minimal to severe.  According to studies conducted by the University of Canberra;  Chronic disease accounts for 2/3 of Australia’s healthcare spending and there are an estimated 3 Million Australians living with a chronic medical condition today.  Unfortunately it is virtually impossible to estimate the cost burden of chronic disease on society or the individual but I’m going to try and put it in a bit more perspective…

I am currently unemployed and have been since December 2010.  Unfortunately my health is not predictable enough at the moment for me to return to regular hours or shift work.  I have possibly picked one of the worst jobs to do with unpredictable health – I am a nurse.  I have a huge amount of responsibility placed on my shoulders at work and if I can not think clearly I could make mistakes and I am not about to test that!  Not to mention the days I can’t get off the couch for more than 5 minutes without feeling dizzy or can’t drive further than the end of the street.  So because of that I feel it is my duty, not only to myself and the stress it could place on my body while it is in a vulnerable state, but to my potential patients and colleagues not to work for the time being.  I don’t plan on this state lasting much longer but then again I felt the same way in January, February, March and every month up until now.

I am a regular centrelink customer.  I have received support from them every year since I became ill in 2004 apart from 2010 when I was able to have a full time job for 6 months then cut down to part time when I became unwell again.  I am currently on Newstart allowance which is $480.80 per fortnight and includes a $6 pharmaceutical allowance because I am on Newstart with a medical certificate.  Unfortunately my pharmaceutical bills far exceed the paltry allowance.  As a low income earner I am eligible for a health care card which reduces the costs of my prescription medications if they are on the PBS, it also partly reduces the costs of some of my medical and physiotherapy bills but not by much.

Out of interest I calculated my fortnightly pharmaceutical bill, it is $143.73 and that’s for my regular medication
Then on top of that there’s health insurance, which I would be stuffed without, and that is around $50 per fortnight paid quarterly
Then there’s the normal everyday stuff like petrol, food, clothing, gym membership, personal trainer and occasional social outing
On top of all that are the medical bills that vary from month to month depending on whether I am recovering from an injury and need regular physiotherapy or just specialist bills and tests
Then there are the many once-off or annual costs like car registration, ambulance cover, birthday and christmas presents, medical alert bracelet and membership, nursing registration (thankfully my training is in a volunteer capacity so I don’t have to pay to keep up my CPD points), union fees etc

There is no short term or intermediate disability allowance.  As far as centrelink are concerned you are either unable to work at all and expected to stay that way for at least 2 years or you go on Newstart and require 3-monthly medical certificates and a significant amount of harassing.  BUT I am hoping to go back to study next year which would make me ineligible for both the Disability Support pension and Newstart and put me on Austudy which is less than Newstart – do they expect me to be able to work and undertake full time study when it is likely I will only be working part time for a few months before I start?  I don’t expect my illness to continue at this level forever but it is likely that it will take several more years to completely recover – if I ever do.  No wonder I still live at home!

Don’t get me wrong, it is helpful to be getting anything at all but I am 27 and far from financially independent and could not be on the allowance I receive.  If it wasn’t for my mum I wouldn’t survive and I do all I can to help out when I can but it isn’t exactly an ideal situation.  Basically what I want is to be well and working full time but as that is not likely to completely happen for a while I have to make do with what I have.  But if what I am getting barely covers the costs imagine what it is like for people who don’t have amazing mums or anyone else to help them out and have costs associated with their disability that exceed mine.

There are a lot of people out there who can’t work and want to, who want to be useful and respected members of society, who have expenses associated with their care that they can’t meet, who struggle every day – they deserve more and better.  I wonder if there are figures available for all that; how many disabled people work, how many can’t and would like to, how much they get in support every year, how much it costs them to care for themselves.  According to Social Policy Research Centre’s 2006 paper on ‘the costs of disability and the incidence of poverty’; The 1999 Household expenditure survey shows that in a household where there is disability there is more likely to also be hardship and poverty.  The paper also came to the conclusion that it was very difficult to estimate the average cost of disability to an individual due to the diverse nature of disability.  What annoys me the most is that there are people out there who can work and don’t, who can’t be bothered, who use and abuse the system and are a complete waste of space and money – they don’t deserve the support.  Isn’t it time something was done about that?

And no, I’m not talking about forcing people back into work or punishing them if they can’t find work, that’s completely different.  Paying more for education would be a good start, we want people to be educated so they can have a better life, right?  So why do the government pay more to people looking for work than people working towards work?  According to the 2010 Household Expenditure Survey “Recipients of disability and carer payments, unemployment and study payments, and family support payments, were much more likely than the population as a whole to be in the bottom two wealth quintiles” were they surprised to find that?  Minimum wage in Australia is $15.51 per hour, $589.30 per week for people who aren’t trainees, apprentices and juniors – Newstart allowance is nearly twice what youth allowance is and that is already below minimum wage.  If a government pension is the main source of income and most of them fall way below minimum wage, why should it come as a shock that people receiving benefits are often living below the poverty line – particularly those who have significant costs associated with daily living like those with a disability, people raising a child on little to no income or people who are studying.  Study leaves very little time to earn money but afterwards, when your degree or apprenticeship or whatever is over and you can join the workforce with your qualification and the pay is usually better than if you had just started from school.  Then these people pay more for tax so the government gets more back in the end anyway, so wouldn’t it be more beneficial to increase benefits to the people who really need them and those who can give back more to the economy in the future? isn’t that called ‘investing in the future’?!  Makes sense to me…


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  1. Trackback: 50k for awareness « Walking For Wisdom

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