It’s not all beer and jigsaw puzzles

Listening to politicians talk about Australia’s pandemic lockdown you could be forgiven for thinking that a nuclear family with two kids and a dog is representative of a “typical” Aussie household.

Much of the media coverage and political commentary has focused on exercising with family members, activities to keep the kids entertained and spending time together as a family unit.

But what about the approximately 5% of people who live in a share-house with friends or strangers and are separated from their loved ones? Or the whopping one quarter of Australians who live alone?

And what about groups like the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups who are disproportionately impacted by social isolation.

The forgotten Aussies

Pete* says he’s part of this forgotten group who have been left stranded and alone in lockdown. Pete has epilepsy, diabetes and an intellectual disability and relies on carers and community support groups to manage his physical and emotional wellbeing.

“I’m 24 and I’ve been lonely. My mum died in 2012 and my dad remarried and moved interstate. My brother lives far away and has his own family to look after so I don’t feel much love,” Pete said.

“I’m relying on paid professionals to look after me. I was part of a Grow Group and every Tuesday I’d go there and we’d have coffee first and they’d give me tips and advice. Now it’s gone online and I’m not really an online person, I’m a people person.”

Isolation devastating for the vulnerable

He said the shift away from face-to-face contact for isolated people would be devastating.

“I see a lot of problems. I think there will be a spike in drinking problems. We know there’s already been a spike in calls to call centres for mental health issues,” he said.

“People can’t handle the loneliness. If this goes on for a long time, I think we’ll see more suicides.”

Pete said he’d already been forced to re-evaluate many of his own goals for 2020 and some were being obstructed by issues the government appeared not to consider.

“I have goals to go to the gym, to see a dietician. I’m also an NDIS participant and part of my funding was to participate in social things. How can that be accomplished now?” he said.

“I’ve been doing a hospitality course and I have these assignments but what if you don’t have a printer at home? Or good internet? Not everybody had that.

“They don’t seem to be thinking about low income earners or people with a disability or people who aren’t very good with technology. What about my Nan? She can’t Skype. She doesn’t know how.

“The PM and Ministers obviously weren’t aware that this is happening to people like me.”

Pete said strict lockdown measures were taking a much tougher toll on vulnerable people, especially those living alone. If they were to persist for an extended period, some thought would need to be given to how these groups could be better supported both during and after the crisis.

* Name changed to protect identity.