On 20 May 2020, COTA Victoria was called to give evidence before a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into the state’s response to COVID-19. It was an opportunity to consider what the Government had done well in managing the virus and what could have been done better.
During our appearance before the Committee, we spoke at length about the many issues that have emerged for older people as a result of the digital divide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 45 per cent of people over the age of 65 do not use the internet. The Government’s lockdown measures, while justified, have had an enormous impact on older people who do not simply have the option of:
- Looking up reliable information on a Government App or website.
- Purchasing food and other essential items online.
- Managing their banking online.
- Completing online forms to access relief packages such as Rent Relief.
- Using digital platforms to remain connected with their friends, families and communities.
We have welcomed a number of important Victorian Government initiatives that have gone some way towards addressing these issues, including:
- The establishment of a program to deliver food and other essential items to eligible older people
- The establishment of the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline which created a low-tech solution to communicate critical information and advice.
- Additional funding for Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Suicide Line Victoria to help meet the increased demand for mental health services. This funding has also allowed for the expansion of phone services to ensure people who are not comfortable with or are unable to use online platforms still get the support they need.
- The 2020 Seniors Festival Reimagined which will see a number of activities delivered online and broadcast on radio.
We have also been encouraged by the Government’s willingness to engage with COTA Victoria to work through some of the ongoing challenges that have arisen for older people during the pandemic.
While we feel that the Government has handled matters relatively well overall, it did not seem adequately prepared for the challenges that would arise for people who are not digitally connected during a crisis of this magnitude. The digital divide needs to be carefully factored into all future emergency planning processes to ensure that services can be provided to every citizen in a timely manner.
Other issues we raised during our appearance before the Committee included:
- The emergence of ageist attitudes within the community; particularly from those who have not believed the economic costs of the lockdown have been worth the lives it has saved.
- Increased risk of people experiencing elder abuse as a form of family violence.
- Issues relating to lockdown measures in residential care.
We now have an opportunity to provide a written submission to the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to COVID-19. We will be drafting our response over the coming month and are seeking feedback from older Victorians to help inform our work. You can find further details in the June edition of our COTA Connects newsletter.