June 30, 2014

SUBJECT/S: McClure Welfare Review, Disability Support Pension.

SANDY ALOISI:  The Federal Government has raised the prospect of sweeping changes to welfare payments for people with disabilities with the release yesterday of an official report.  The report, prepared by Patrick McClure, the former head of Mission Australia, proposes slashing the number of separate payments provided.  And the minister for social services, Kevin Andrews has pointed to the rapid increase in payments to people with psychological disabilities as an area that should be addressed.  For a Labor view of the report’s recommendations, Marius Benson is speaking live to the Shadow Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin.

MARIUS BENSON: Jenny Macklin, Good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning, Marius.

BENSON: The present system involves about 70 plus forms of payment and supplement distributing a $100 billion to 830,000 people. Does something need to be done to simplify that?

MACKLIN: Well there’s nothing wrong with simplification unless it’s used as cover to cut payments, which is what many, many people fear the Abbott Government really has in mind.  Just last week we saw Tony Abbott ram through cuts to the Age Pension, the Disability Support Pension, the Carer Payment, family payments.  All of these were pushed through the House of Representatives late on Tuesday night.  So the Abbott Government has form in this area and of course people are very frightened about what that will mean for their standard of living. 

BENSON: Kevin Andrews says that saving money is not the objective in this exercise.

MACKLIN: Well you also have to read the report, and what the report says is that they want to create a tiered payment for people on the Disability Support Pension for example, and what that means in plain language is that they want to take people off the current Disability Support Pension and put them on a lower payment.  It’s not about putting them on a higher payment it’s about cutting the amount of money that people on the Disability Support Pension will have to live on.  Now they currently get only around $20,000 a year to live on.  That is not a lot of money, and we certainly do not want to see people with disability left with even less to survive on.

BENSON: Is there merit in clarifying the system so that the Disability Support Pension goes only to those who are suffering permanent disability?

MACKLIN: Well let me just describe how it is that people get on to the DSP.  You’d think from the way the Abbott Government describes things that it’s easy it is not easy. In fact the rate at which people get on to the Disability Support Pension has declined dramatically over the last few years. 

But people have to demonstrate that they are unable to work for fifteen hours a week or more, and then they also have to have participated in what’s called a Program of Support.  That means they have to have tried to find work for 18 months before they can get on the Disability Support Pension. 

Only then, if they can’t, as a result of their impairment, find work, are they then eligible for the Disability Support Pension.  People with disability have been outrageously demonised by the Abbott Government over the last six months and made to feel that they’re not worthy citizens of this country, whereas they’re dealing with their own disability, their own incapacity to work they deserve our support not the way in which the Abbott Government has demonised people.

BENSON: There is a claim that there are incentives and to misrepresent or to present yourself as having a disability when you’re unemployed because the Disability Support Pension is much higher than the unemployment pension.  You know how the system works do you believe that’s a genuine concern or an invented one?

MACKLIN: Well I certainly know that $20,000 a year, which is the amount people who on the DSP get, the Disability Support Pension get, is not a lot of money.  It is not easy for people to manage.  And the reason people get a higher pension rate is because they have been assessed as unable to work for 15 hours a week or more.  That means they can’t make a decent living from going to work.  That’s why we should support people who are unable to work, who have a disability.  I think we have to remember that we’re a decent society that says we will support people when they are unable to work.  Australia does not have an out of control welfare system, as the Abbott Government tries to suggest, in fact we spend almost the lowest amount in the OECD.  The second lowest, in fact, of all developed countries.  So let’s get all of this into perspective.  Let’s do more to help people with a disability get work if they’re able to work.  The people I know who have a disability want to be able to work.  Where are all these jobs that employers are offering to people with disability?  That’s where we need concentrate, work with employers, work with people with disability, help people get into work, not demonise them.

BENSON: Jenny Macklin, thank you very much.

MACKLIN: Thank you.


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