Senate push to increase 'inadequate' pension payment

The disability support pension (DSP) is inadequate, says the Senate’s community affairs committee, which found people relying solely on the benefit risk descending into poverty.

Research shows single people ‘living’ on the payment need an extra $50 a week to rise above the poverty line.

A single person without children receives under $970 a fortnight on the DSP, compared to the national minimum wage of $1545.

The DSP costs $18.4 billion a year and aims to support those who are permanently unable to work due to disability.

DSP recipients are typically in older age groups, with more than half (54 per cent) aged between 50 and 64. Three in five DSP recipients in this age group are female (58 per cent) compared with 51 per cent males.

A smaller proportion of DSP recipients are aged over 65 – around 10 per cent at last count. While the number of over-65s receiving a DSP is relatively small, the number and proportion has increased over the past 15 years, from 0.2 per cent of the total population in this age group to 1.9 per cent in 2019.

A DSP recipient who also qualifies for the Age Pension can choose to remain on his or her existing payment but it is closed to new entrants over the age of 65.

According to the Senate committee, seven in 10 recipients have spent more than a decade on one form of income support or another, and six in 10 received the DSP for over a decade.

Just three per cent of more than 750,000 people on the DSP have the capacity to return to the workforce.

Read: How does an inheritance affect the Disability Support Pension?

This indicates deep and systemic problems in the system, says Greens senator and committee chair Janet Rice, who expressed concerns that the payment may also be inaccessible to many who need it.

“Thousands of Australians are currently living in poverty waiting to access a payment that is appropriate for their circumstances and for those who are on the disability support pension the rate of the payment is still inadequate,” said Senator Rice in a 7News report.

“This report provides a blueprint for reform to make the disability support pension genuinely accessible.”

The committee wants the government to reform the income test to help recipients re-enter the workforce, adding that there is a desire to work but better programs are required to help those with a disability regain a job and stay in it.

Read: DSP approval rates hit new low

The committee suggests the employment services program for DSP recipients should be voluntary, and payment and support could be simpler to access. It also wants additional funding for advocacy groups and community legal services and a suspension of mutual obligations for those on JobSeeker trying to access the DSP.

“Thousands of people are forced to wait in limbo on the inadequate rate of JobSeeker, facing arbitrary hurdles, unfair requirements, and murky information,” said Senator Rice.

“Many of those who’ve been unfairly denied access to the disability support pension have been forced to wait years. They must not wait any longer.”

Read: Can you receive the DSP while living overseas?

These recommendations could vastly improve the struggling system. However, while the senators support practical improvements to the pension, ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the social security system will remain the key focus.

Do you receive the DSP? Is it enough to live on? Do you think these recommendations are more lip service? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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