Disability Pension Changes Need Consideration - Advocacy Groups
22 April 2014 at 12:00 pm
The Australian Council of Social Service and disability advocacy members say the Federal Government will be taking a backward step if changes to the Disability Support Pension simply takes money away from people in desperate situations.
The comments come after it was recently revealed that Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews was looking into a number of changes as part of the national welfare review including disability pensioners examined by independent doctors to determine whether they were entitled to the pension.
The media report also says that Andrews was considering a fixed higher payment for the most disabled pensioners and lower payments for people with less restrictive disabilities, who might be able to work part time.
The report also said that after spending time in New Zealand recently, Andrews said there were features he would like to borrow from the neighbouring welfare system.
The Australian Council of Social Service and disability advocacy members have urged the Federal Government to ensure that changes being considered to the Disability Support Pension do not further exacerbate the health conditions, poverty and disadvantage experienced by people who rely on the important payment.
“ACOSS supports a review of income support payments, but we won’t support any changes that simply take money away from people in desperate situations and which will risk making them sicker and more disadvantaged,” ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said.
“Reform is needed to improve job prospects and invest more in skills development and support. The last thing we need is to plunge people into further distress. If the Government chooses to go down that road – it would be a major backward step and extremely damaging to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
“We know that people with disabilities and those with severe work incapacities, such as mental illness, face enormous challenges. More than 600, 000 people with disability are living below the poverty line. A shocking 42 per cent of people on the DSP are already living in poverty. This is unacceptable and it would be unconscionable for us to make the plight of those who rely on the DSP worse.
“We cannot accept that people with major work incapacities are shifted onto the below poverty line Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, purely to save a few pennies that will make little difference to the overall Federal Budget. This would merely further punish people who are already doing it tough.
“It would be wrong to put people who are in a vulnerable position through constant reassessments in-order to retain crucial income that they need to keep their head above water. And creating a tiered payment structure would add further complexity to an already complicated system.
“Our nation does not have a DSP or 'welfare crisis' but rather a jobs crisis, with record low rates of employment of people with disability including in the Commonwealth Public Service.
“How will these changes open up job opportunities? How will they tackle discrimination? How will they improve training and support?
“People with disability and major work incapacities like mental illness want to be in paid work when able – but many simply can’t without additional support. The Government and the private sector can and should do more to increase employment opportunities for this group of people.
“A great place to start is in the public service where employment of people with disabilities has more than halved from six per cent in the early 90s to just 2.9 per cent now.
“The Federal Government should focus on how to better transition people on DSP into secure paid employment, while ensuring those with significant barriers to work are still provided adequate support.
“We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by past governments, where welfare reform involved little more than shifting vulnerable people on to lower payments to make budget savings, putting them through further assessments, and in and out of training program's leading no-where – while failing to provide sufficient support to improve their chances of securing paid work, and providing a pathway into a real job,” Dr Goldie said.
Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia, said education was one of the biggest enabler of employment.
“We know that two thirds of people with disability between 15 and 64 don’t complete year 12, and education is one of the biggest enablers of employment,” she said.
“Whilst students with disability continue to confront an inadequate and underfunded education system it is a fast track for many to the Disability Support Pension.”
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) Vice-President Fiona Given said people with disability on the DSP were not fakes.
“Using this kind of language is less likely to endear employers to employing people with disability,” she said.
PWDA President Craig Wallace said moving people into poverty won't get them jobs.
“The only people to get more work will be Doctors and we need them helping sick people,” he said.
“We’re very concerned that the Government seems to be conducting reform discussions around DSP in an ad hoc way. It’s alarming vulnerable people with disabilities when they should be spending time with family on Easter Sunday and when we haven’t even seen the interim report of the McClure review.”