Welfare Funding – The NFP Reaction
Tuesday, 21st May 2002 at 1:05 pm
In a week of budget deliveries and back-downs, claims and counter-claims, the Not for Profit sector is digesting the Howard / Costello 2002 Budget.
As Budget comments go, the reaction by Democrats leader Natasha Stott-Despoja will perhaps resound for some time to come. A post-budget media conference saw her refer to the Treasurer’s fiscal policy as ‘squeezing the poor to pay for war!’ Many in the Third Sector would agree, but are not prepared to let this happen without a fight.
The Federal Government has already been forced to review the changes it announced on welfare funding after condemnation from many welfare groups and in particular the disabled.
The Government introduced a Bill that would force people capable of working 15 hours a week or more off the Disability Support Pension and on to the Newstart Allowance at a lower rate, with a saving of $335 million dollars over four years.
The back-down came as ACOSS brought together disability groups in Canberra to sound the warning bells.
ACOSS President, Andrew McCallum said the changes would hit some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
McCallum said the changes mean that people with disabilities will struggle to cover the costs of living – which are generally higher through having a disability – with $52 a fortnight less than the disability pension.
He said they would also be forced to comply with the strict requirements for unemployed people such as applying for up to ten jobs a fortnight, and face severe penalties associated with these requirements, in addition to losing access to vital pensioner concessions.
The President of the Physical Disability Council of Australia, Maurice Corcoran said the Budget ignores the needs of people with disabilities and the barriers they face. Many people with disabilities want to work and would be able to do so with the right support.
Corcoran said the answer is not to make it even harder for them by reclassifying them as unemployed and reducing their income. The McClure report recognised that they need more money, not less, due to their disability and recommended a participation allowance.
He said the Government should also focus on breaking down barriers to jobs such as discrimination by employers and a lack of accessible transport, personal care and accommodation.
The Chair of ACE National Network (the open employment services’ peak) Liz Forsyth said eligibility is already tight and further restrictions will not help reduce the number of people with a disability in the community. This change will only lengthen the ‘dole queue’, put additional pressure on employment services, and increase hardship for people with disabilities.
Forsyth said the people with disabilities are queuing up to use welfare services – which can’t hope to meet the current demand even with the welcome new employment places. Instead of making it harder for them, the Government should expand the services and supports they need to get and keep a job.
ACOSS President Andrew McCallum however added that the Government’s announcement of additional funds for disability employment services is welcome.
But, he said its commitment to meet its share of unmet need for accommodation, respite and other supports for people with severe disabilities will not result in any new services – this is simply keeping their promise to meet a backlog of need up to 1997 on an ongoing basis, something the States committed long ago.
Further, the need to meet any demand since then or any future needs of people with disabilities has been ignored.
It is believed that up to 13,000 disabled people will be affected by the change to Newstart. The Prime Minister and the Community Services Minister Amanda Vanstone agreed that the government would give attention to special circumstances and that policy discussions on this were not closed.
If you want to voice your opinion on this issue, send an e-mail or join our on-line Forum at probonoaustralia.com.au.