The new NSW premier wasted no time announcing an accelerated easing of the state’s COVID-19 lockdown last week, citing the economy, health, and mental health as the key reasons for the change. For anyone who’s suffered poor mental health over the last two years, hearing the government toss in the term ‘mental health’ as part of their decision making seems more than a little disingenuous.
While it’s true that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to psychological stress on many people, lockdowns aren’t the main cause of this stress. Rather, it’s the way they’ve been implemented, with a lack of support that has shown anything but regard for people’s mental health. And let’s make this very clear: we have all been affected, but in general, women, low income earners, and those with unstable employment have borne the brunt of the impact.
According to the Grattan Institute Report, remote learning and the loss of formal and informal childcare led to a rise in unpaid work during the lockdowns, which was disproportionately borne by women, many of whom found it impossible to juggle with their existing paid work commitments.
“Mothers in couples, and single parents (80 percent of whom are women), were more likely to leave the labour force than other groups. Women of childbearing age also gave up study in record numbers. For single parents, paid hours remain substantially below pre-pandemic levels. The economic effects of time out of the workforce are magnified for women, especially mothers, many of whom are already on a ‘stop/start’ career path,” the study found.
Domestic violence by men against women also increased during the pandemic – affecting both physical and mental health – but aside from some tokenistic advertising very little has been done about it federally, and state-wide the matter has barely been addressed. While we have some incredible, hardworking police in NSW, we also have a police force who as a whole is notorious for not prioritising domestic violence or coercive control.
This could change on a state-wide level by making sure domestic violence has real consequences. One woman per week being killed in Australia by her partner or ex-partner surely warrants the same kind of response as the highly-publicised alcohol-fuelled assaults which caused the deaths of young men in the Sydney CBD, leading to the ‘one punch’ laws embodied into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in 2014.
It’s interesting to note that when it comes to poverty and its undeniable health and mental health related impacts, the new premier is completely without life experience. In a speech to the Centre for Independent Studies in 2015 he used his privileged upbringing as an example of “sacrifice”, explaining that his parents sold their home to give their 12 children a private education. “They made enormous sacrifices which has certainly framed my thinking. They have alleviated the tax burden in terms of paying private health insurance and private education and they have created 12 future taxpayers,” he said.
While it must be a lovely view from Perrottet’s ivory tower, can we talk about how many families cannot afford to buy a home in the first place, people who are stuck in a vicious rent cycle – with rents now higher than ever – that have them living paycheque to paycheque? Can we talk about how affording private school fees is not even on their radar, and instead they’re considering whether to pay the rent or the electricity, with no assets to sell in order to do so?
If we’re going to talk about health and mental health, let’s get real. The government has made no serious attempt to assist people whose mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. The new premier should call it as it is: he wants NSW (and big business Liberal Party doners) to make more money. As usual, the mental health and well-being of Australians who are already doing it tough is barely on the periphery.