Welfare changes to hit DSP

A series of welfare changes aimed at simplifying Australia’s social security system has been flagged in an interim report, compiled by former Mission Australia chief, Patrick McClure. The changes recommend that the system cover four main groups; child payments, unemployment, Disability Support Pension (DSP) and the Age Pension, which need to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Simpler and sustainable income support system
  2. Strengthening individual and family capacity
  3. Engaging with employees
  4. Building community capacity.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said the recommendations would provide a “simplified architecture for the welfare system in Australia”.

“Australia’s current welfare system is incredibly unwieldy, with around 20 payments and 50 supplements,” he said. “It is not only difficult to administer, it is very difficult for many people who are recipients of welfare, or potentially recipients of welfare, to actually understand the system.”

One of the proposals includes extending the income management program which is being used in some Aboriginal communities and is supported in principle by Mr Andrews. “We believe that [income management] had very positive effects for quite a number of people, not the least of which are women and children in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities,” Mr Andrews said.

While the focus of the report was to simplify Australia’s welfare system, especially in regards to maintaining a sustainable system as our population ages, the major change, if implemented, would be to limit the DSP to those with a permanent disability, which means they will never be able to work again. There are currently 830,000 people receiving the DSP, of which Mr Andrews said, “The question is, how can we assist those people rather than just, as we do now, largely say once you’re on the DSP, you’re on it for the rest of your working life.”

However, Craig Wallace, from People with Disabilities Australia criticised the change, saying people with disabilities want to work if they can. “Rorters, bludgers, slackers, slouchers, that kind of language that we have seen over the past couple of months reduces and trashes and destroys the brand of people with disabilities to employers,” Mr Wallace said.

Opposition frontbencher, Anthony Albanese said that the treatment of the vulnerable, who were being targeted by this report, was typical of the Coalition Government. “People, through accidents at birth or indeed accidents during life … find themselves with severe disabilities,” he said. “They deserve better than to be told they are just a burden on society … the problem with this Government is that it treats people in that way.”

Read more at ABC.net.au

Read the interim report here

Opinion: All tarred with the same brush

The sweeping generalisation that those on the Disability Support Pension, unless permanently disabled, are in some way ‘faking’ is not only astonishing, but shows a lack of understanding about what our welfare system is supposed to cover. The point of welfare is to provide a safety net, security for the times when things haven’t quite worked out as you’d expected, such as the times when you can’t work due to chronic illness or temporary disability.

Of course, as with all welfare payments and systems there will be those who try to rort the system, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be punished for the few who behave badly. By all means tighten the controls and rules surrounding the eligibility for all social security payments, but don’t just make sweeping reforms which affect those who can least afford to be without.

One of the other gems in the report also suggests that those of Age Pension age be paid the Age Pension, and not be able to receive the DSP, which they can currently opt to do. While the rate of payment is the same for both benefits, there are different rules, notably for how long a recipient can leave the country before their payments are affected. The Age Pension is currently more generous in this respect, but should the payments be simplified, there is a reasonable chance that this could be reviewed and amended.

This is not the first time Mr McClure has conducted such a review for the Coalition Government, having undertaken a similar exercise in 2000 for then Prime Minister John Howard. This report, simply known as the McClure Report, recommended that all welfare payments be replaced by a single base rate with additional supplements to address individual circumstances. The Coalition Government did not implement these recommendations at the time, but it seems the harsher line of attack now suggested is more appealing.

The interim report has been made available to the public and a six-week consultation process means that anyone can put forward their point of view. You have until 8 August to do so.

Do you think it’s fair to stop the DSP for those who have a temporary disability, or limited capacity to work? Would such changes mean that you would lose any benefits? Does the welfare system need reviewing? Or is it just another example of the Coalition Government targeting the most vulnerable and defenceless in our society?