Wake up call for the nation: More than 620, 000 people with disability living in poverty

The Australian Council of Social Service has today released new figures showing 620, 600 people with disability in Australia are living below the conservative, internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries.

“ACOSS welcomes the passage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation through federal Parliament yesterday. We congratulate the across the board political support for this vitally important reform that will make a real difference to the lives of people with disabilities,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The new research forms part of the Poverty in Australia report released in October 2012 that showed that 2,265,000 people are living in poverty in Australia. Data for the number of people living in poverty with disability was not available in time for that report.

“This figure should be cause for great concern. It shows that 27.4% of people with disability are currently living below the poverty line of 50% of median household income,” Dr Goldie said.

“This means that people with disability – or those with a ‘core activity restriction’ as defined in the Australian Bureau of Statistics income survey – are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than other people in our country. This compares with 12.8% of the overall population living in poverty, including 17.3% of children. It’s simply not good enough. We can and must do better.

“When you take the 60% poverty line used by the UK and other European countries, the situation is even more dire, pushing that figure to 44.5% or one million people.

“The lack of real employment opportunities is a main factor for the above-average risk of poverty. In 2009 only 54% people with a ‘core activity restriction’ were employed compared to 83% of people generally of working age.

“We also know that many people with disabilities rely on social security payments,such as the Newstart Allowance and the Disability Support Pension, as their main income source. Since the introduction of Welfare to Work policies in 2006, an increasing number of people assessed as having a ‘partial work capacity’ (ability to work part time) have been placed on the lower Newstart Allowance rather than the Disability Support Pension.

“Disturbingly, the most recent changes to the Disability Support Pension will likely have further increased the number of people forced to live on Newstart, since this report. The findings by the National Welfare Rights Network that successful claims of the Disability Support Pension have plummeted from one in three, to just one in every two claims in 2011-12 is extremely disturbing.

“This has meant that over 67,000 people with disabilities have been pushed onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance, which is $150 less per week. This change appears likely to be saving the Government at least a further $500 million per year.

“Currently, over 824,000 people with disabilities receive Disability Support Pension and more than 100,000 receive Newstart Allowance.

“This is yet more evidence of the urgent need to increase the grossly inadequate Newstart Allowance payment which hasn’t been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years. People on this payment have to make do on just $35 a day which clearly isn’t enough for anyone to live on, especially if you have added difficulties and costs associated with disability.

“>”We need urgent action to address the inadequacy of income support payments for people with disability, including the single rate of Newstart Allowance, onto which more people will be reliant into the future.

“We also need a determined effort to lift languishing employment rates. Nationally, we have seen an alarming decline in participation rates, including within the Commonwealth Public Service. It’s extremely disappointing that the employment levels of people with disability in the Australian Public Service has been going backwards over the last 20 years – from 5.8% in 1992 to 3.7% in 2001 to 2.9% in 2012.

“It is high time that we considered introduction of targets and quotas, to provide the incentives necessary to ensure equality of employment opportunities. The great productivity debate in Australia needs to have at its core how we ensure that people with diverse capabilities and backgrounds are fully enabled to participate in our workplaces, now and into the future.

“We also need a national commitment to reduce the rate of poverty in Australia, as part of our quest to lift our GDP growth. It is shameful that, despite two decades of strong economic growth, with Australia now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have so many people struggling.

“Our report is a wake up call for our nation and highlights that there is a long way to go for us to provide people living with disabilities the same opportunities to participate in society as the rest of us enjoy,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Poverty in Australia Report – Updated version 2013

Key Findings of Report:

• 2,265,000 people or 12.8% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line (50% of median household income)
• 575,000 children or 17.3% were living below the poverty line
• 620,600 people with a disability or 27.4% were living below the poverty line
• 63% of people in unemployed households were below the poverty line
• 25% of people in lone parent households were below the 50% poverty line
• 37% of people in households whose main income was social security were living below the poverty line
• 14% of women were below the poverty line compared to 12% of men
• 54% of people living in households below the poverty line were female compared to 46% male
• 26% of adults living in households below the 50% poverty line came from a non-English-speaking-country
• The level of poverty was higher (13.1%) outside capital cities than in capital cities (12.6%)
• The proportion of people in poverty rose by approximately a third of a percentage point from 2003 to 2010 but it is difficult to compare poverty levels over the long term due to changes in the various ABS surveys