DSP inquiry report a "slap in the face" to disabled people says advocate
People with disability are suffering in the welfare system – sweeping change to the Disability Support Pension is undeniably necessary and urgent
The Antipoverty Centre is dismayed by today’s senate community affairs committee report on the purpose, intent and adequacy of the Disability Support Pension.
We call bullshit on this report. Disabled people are hurting and being actively harmed by the welfare system. Mincing words and meekly requesting that an obviously uninterested government “consider” the committee’s findings is pathetic.
Disabled people are discriminated against in the workforce and every facet of life, excluded from the labour market and in desperate need of support that never arrives.
It’s disappointing that even a committee dominated by progressive parties who claim to care for us haven’t even been able to make a case for the urgent action that is clearly necessary. There is no excuse for this outcome. This was an opposition-dominated committee – if these politicians are serious about helping people, they need to tell us what they’ll do and it can’t be more of the same.
At least 38% of disabled people in this country have poverty-level income. Hundreds of thousands are on the JobSeeker payment and currently have an income of half the poverty line. About eight out of 10 people on the payment regularly skip meals.
There are nearly half a million disabled people living on JobSeeker being subjected to brutal mutual obligations that make disabilities worse, and the recommendations don’t even mention them.
We welcome the committee’s recognition that the Medicare Benefits Schedule must be changed to make applying for the DSP more accessible, but the weak and technocratic recommendations in this report are completely disrespectful of the dire conditions facing disabled people who rely on income support.
Kristin O’Connell, a Disability Support Pension recipient from the Antipoverty Centre who co-authored a joint submission to the inquiry with People with Disability Australia, said:
There is little hope in this report for disabled people who are locked out of the DSP and for those who are already on the poverty-level payment.
Hundreds of disabled people contributed to our submission to this inquiry. The sheer monotony of their stories was chilling: people can’t eat or access health care, people are homeless, people are suicidal and turning to self-harm.
I am a disabled woman in my 30s on the DSP. Reading this report fills me with despair. There is not even a recommendation to lift the appallingly low DSP rate, which keeps disabled people living well below the poverty line, and for many of us means we have no prospect of ever living a normal life – we're consigned to poverty until we die.
We are being punished for circumstances beyond our control: we can’t control the discrimination we experience in the labour market, we can’t control the fact that our bodies and minds prevent us from working in the same ways as people who aren’t disabled, and we can’t control the fact that the government actively seeks to keep hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.
It’s impossible to fathom how the committee has come up with such weak recommendations after being inundated with harrowing evidence from hundreds of disabled people. It is a slap in the face to those of us who participated in this inquiry in good faith.
People forgo medication and healthcare and that means over time, if you are disabled, which hundreds of thousands of people on JobSeeker are, your conditions get worse.
It means you are less employable, it means your healthcare costs go up and over time you are denying yourself more and more treatment that you need.
There have been unrelenting attacks on disabled people in the social security system from both major political parties since the Gillard government blocked people from accessing the DSP in 2011 and it has to stop.
We don’t need more reports, we don’t need more investigation, we desperately need help and we need it right now.
Antipoverty Centre: Kristin O’Connell, 0413 261 362, media at antipovertycentre.org
PWDA: Michael Badorrek, 0408 682 867, michaelb at pwd.org.au
278 disabled people shared their stories with us for this inquiry and their voices are included throughout the submissions. Selected quotes are included below. People who shared their personal experiences are available for interview by contacting Kristin O’Connell.
Changes introduced by the Gillard government in 2011, which saw the number of disabled people receiving the DSP drop dramatically from about 90,000 per year in 2010–11 to 31,000 in 2017–18.1
38% of disabled people have an income of less than $384 per week, which is less than half the poverty line of $872.2
About 42% of working age people with disability rely on income support as our main source of income, compared to 8% of those without disability.3
At $547 per week including supplements and maximum rent assistance, the DSP is $325 or 37% below the poverty line.4
We estimate there are close to 500,000 disabled people on the JobSeeker payment of $315 per week (about $550 below the poverty line for disabled people) in employment services programs.5
Quotes from people with disability who contributed to the Antipoverty Centre and PWDA submission
Contact Kristin O’Connell on 0413 261 362 to arrange an interview.
There's no point, they wouldn't listen to somebody like me. The people who make decisions about the DSP at present have no moral, rational, or even personal license to do it. They want people who can't work to starve to death on the street. I think that should be pretty obvious by now. – Maddison
The government should offer us euthanasia, because that would be kinder than denying our existence. I really hope things can get better I'm so tired and I'm so unwell. – name withheld
My experience of going for the DSP has been that of fear, stress and humiliation. I feel the system they have put in place is so exhaustive and dehumanising that people, like me, give up defeated and still ill. – Liz
I'm grateful to live in a country which supports those who cannot work. I do not believe that anyone on the DSP is just sitting around doing nothing. It takes all my money and time to care for myself and my children. I am doing the best I can. I am getting by but it would be nice to have enough to thrive not just survive. – Kaya
Unemployment is not enough to live off of, I am too sick to work but not the "right kind of sick" to be on the DSP. You just want me to disappear and stop being your problem, but I'm also not allowed to try and end my own life. So please tell me, what exactly do you want me to do? Because I've tried 'just not being sick anymore' and it turns out it just makes me even sicker. – name withheld
Collie et al, 2019, The Health of Disability Support Pension and Newstart Allowance Recipients: Analysis of National Health Survey Data, Insurance Work and Health Group, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, access via: https://apo.org.au/node/257481.
The Henderson poverty line is currently $871.67 per week when accounting for the higher cost of living with disability. The single person poverty line for the general population is $581.11 per week (https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/publications/poverty-lines). The cost of an equivalent standard of living is 50% higher for disabled people (https://doi.org/10.1186/s13561-020-00264-1).
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Data tables: Income supplementary data tables’, People with disability in Australia, 2 October 2020, access via https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia/data?page=3.
Department of Social Services, DES Monthly Data, Labour Market Information Portal (LMIP), access via: https://lmip.gov.au/default.aspx?LMIP/Downloads/DisabilityEmploymentServicesData/MonthlyData; Department of Education Skills and Employment, jobactive and Transition to Work (TtW) Provider Caseload by Selected Cohorts, LMIP, access via: https://lmip.gov.au/default.aspx?LMIP/Downloads/EmploymentRegion; JobSeeker rate: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/jobseeker-payment/how-much-you-can-get.