Avoid DSP changes that are likely to further exacerbate mental illness

DOORSTOP: 12.30pm Sunday, April 20, 2014

Press Gallery boxes, Parliament House, Canberra

The Australian Council of Social Service and disability advocacy members today 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,” said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

“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, “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. 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 on the DSP are not fakes. Using this kind of language is less likely to endear employers to employing people with disability,” said Fiona Given, Vice- President, People with Disability Australia (PWDA).

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.”

“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,” Mr Craig Wallace said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155

Media Contacts:

Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS – 0419 626 155
Fiona Given, Vice, President, People with Disability Australia – 0417 693 696
Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia – 0413 135 731
Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia – 0425 724 230
Maree O’Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network: 0417 672 104