Government Backflips on DSP Suspension Cut For Prisoners
20 December 2018 at 8:20 am
A campaign to reverse the federal government’s reduction to the suspension time of the Disability Support Pension for people in prison has been successful, keeping it at two years rather than 13 weeks.
Currently, people on the DSP don’t receive the payment behind bars, but can suspend it for up to two years without it being cancelled, lessening the risk of them immediately falling into homelessness, destitution and recidivism.
But in the May federal budget, the suspension period was slashed to just 13 weeks, and was due to take effect on 1 January, 2019.
Peak disability advocacy body, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), ran a campaign against the suspension reduction and announced on Tuesday it had been successful.
“We are pleased to advise that our campaign work to stop the policy change to reduce the DSP payment suspension from the current two years to 13 weeks has been successful,” AFDO CEO Ross Joyce said.
Joyce told Pro Bono News the policy was a lack of common sense, and would have caused detrimental harm to people trying to get back on their feet after a prison sentence, especially as it takes around six to seven months to be approved for the DSP after applying.
“What we were looking at was a revolving door of people with disability, who because they wouldn’t have the support when they came out, would have a higher chance of re-offending,” he said.
While he didn’t believe the policy was a deliberate attack on people with disability, he said it was a case of not looking into what the DSP really meant for people who needed it.
“They don’t have the same circle of support… it’s predominantly people with an intellectual disability or psychosocial disability and from what research shows, it’s more than likely going to be a person from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background,” he said.
“So these are already people with multiple issues, and they are going to struggle more coming out from prison.”
He also noted one of the reasons AFDO fought as hard as it did on the campaign was because the 13 week period would have started as soon as they were on remand, even if they were later not found guilty.
“It was an additional punishment taking place before they even entered the prison system,” he said.
“We just saw it as a lack of looking at the detail that was going to be really affecting a very disadvantaged group within the community, who can’t always speak for themselves.”
Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher, told Pro Bono News one of the main reasons they decided to reconsider the policy was because those who might not be found guilty could still have their payment removed.
“The government decided not to proceed with the measure after reconsidering the impact, particularly on people released from remand who may not have been convicted of an offence,” Fletcher said.
Linda Burney, shadow member for social services, welcomed the decision backflip, calling it a cruel and counterproductive measure.
“It would have put vulnerable people at risk of recidivism or homelessness upon exiting prison,” Burney said.
“This latest backflip shows just how divided and dysfunctional this government is.”
Joyce said AFDO were now focussed on educating all members of Parliament at all levels of government on the importance of the DSP and how it actually helped people.
“The DSP and what it’s doing is not appreciated. So we are going to make as many parliamentarians as we can across the country aware of this, to make sure that they’re well aware of why we have a disability support pension,” he said.