Senate committee seeks sweeping changes to support pension

A Senate committee report highlights “serious flaws” in the way a valuable support pension is accessed and administered.

The report is the product of a senate inquiry conducted by the community affairs references committee, chaired by Greens Senator Janet Rice. She claims there are “deep and systemic problems” with the structure of the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The report focuses on the “purpose, intent and adequacy” of the DSP.

Seeking to determine whether the pension allows people to maintain an acceptable standard of living in line with community expectations, the report found that “as a result of the tightened DSP eligibility requirements … people with disability or chronic illness who are unable to get onto the DSP are forced to apply for other income support payments, such as the JobSeeker payment”.

These payments, the report argues, should be for jobseekers and people who are unable to work for a short time due to sickness or injury, rather than those with a chronic illness or disability.

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In a chapter dealing with barriers to accessing the DSP, the report quoted one frustrated applicant, who said: “… the reports I submitted aren’t good enough because they don’t properly address the Disability Support Pension criteria … It’s an impossible ask and I feel like I’m getting nowhere. My GP is fed up. And I’m fed up too… I’m just a file number. No one has seen how I suffer every day.”

The committee report, which makes 30 recommendations, criticises the complexity of the application process, which it says makes it difficult not just for the applicants but for the health professionals treating them.

It says: “The evidence required to make a claim for the DSP can be difficult to obtain and cost-prohibitive, and the process for applying is long, complex and not well understood by applicants or treating health professionals.’

The committee noted that the challenges for people navigating this system were varied and were likely to be exacerbated by their condition.

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The requirement that a condition be “fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised” is preventing people with conditions that are complex and fluctuating or deteriorate over time, from accessing the DSP, the report says. It urges the government to modify that requirement to ensure people get the support they need.

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, Senator Rice said: “Evidence provided to the committee showed the deep and systemic problems with the DSP that have made the payment inaccessible for so many people who need it.

“The fundamental failure of the current system has meant thousands of people are forced to wait in limbo on the inadequate rate of JobSeeker, facing arbitrary hurdles, unfair requirements and murky information.

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“Thousands of Australians are currently living in poverty waiting to access a payment that is appropriate for their circumstances. And even for those who are on the DSP, the evidence shows the rate of the payment is still inadequate to meet people’s needs.”

Other recommendations detailed in the report include:

  • aligning the payment closer to the social model of disability, rather than to the medical model
  • providing more funding to advocacy groups and community legal services, including those supporting First Nations applicants
  • reviewing publicly available material and the claim forms to make them simpler and clearer
  • improving the level of information provided to applicants when claims are rejected.

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

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Written by Andrew Gigacz