Disability pension pushing Indigenous Australians into poverty

Two in five Indigenous households relying on the Disability Support Pension ran out of money for basic items such as food and fuel in the last year, new research shows, prompting calls from disability advocates for the government to urgently review the scheme.

The research is one of three new studies highlighting the economic and health impacts of disability, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, officially launched on Tuesday by the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO).

The research found Aborginal and Torres Strait Islanders were two and a half times more likely to be on the Disability Support Pension than their non-Indigenous counterparts because of greater exposure to disadvantage, and were more likely to face barriers when accessing support.

Associate Professor Karen Soldactic, a lead author of a report examining the challenges of Indigenous people accessing the DSP, said the extensive evidence required to prove a person had a permanent disability was often a difficult and expensive exercise.

“For Indigenous Australians living in regional and remote regions, it can be unfeasible to meet the medical evidence requirements as well as access treatments because of the lack of readily available specialists and medical services,” Soldactic told Pro Bono News.

“There are also really serious implications around their personal time and the resources that they have to invest in, in order to collate that evidence, travelling long distances to and from appointments to gain the medical evidence required which is not funded.”

Applicants also required significant support and assistance with advocating their eligibility for the DSP, understanding the paperwork and attending appointments.

In many cases, family members, non-medical service providers and medical practitioners stepped into an advocacy role.

“Informal carers then have to take time off work and miss out on pay,” Soldactic said.

People with disability were found to spend $107 a week more on basic living costs such as transport and healthcare than people without disability and due to successive governments cracking down on the eligibility criteria of the scheme, many who may have been eligible in the past no longer had access to the DSP.

The pool of disability pensioners shrunk from 824,470 in 2014 to 750,045 in 2018.

In 2010-11, 69 per cent of claims were successful. Now, only 29.8 per cent of applicants are approved.

More than 200,000 people with disability were now receiving the lower Newstart Allowance (NSA) and tens of thousands of people were not receiving any support at all.

The report found over 13 per cent of Indigenous DSP recipients could not afford meals, 23 per cent sought financial help from welfare groups, and 34 per cent went to family and friends for money.

AFDO CEO, Ross Joyce said the financial cost of living with disability and the declining access to the DSP was causing significant economic, social, psychological stress and unnecessary hardship for people with disability.

“There are a lot of additional costs of living with disability, including accessible housing, transport and access to health services. These costs are particularly acute for people with disability living in regional and remote areas of Australia,” Joyce said.

AFDO and the report authors said the government needed to immediately review the adequacy of the DSP to ensure the eligibility process didn’t cause further financial hardship, and was fair for all participants.

Joyce said the barriers put in place by both Labor and Coalition governments for people accessing the DSP over the past two decades needed to be wound back.

“Those changes haven’t resulted in more people with disability working,” he said.

“Instead they’ve resigned more people with disability to poverty and financial insecurity and caused stress and heartache.”

Follow this link to media article (by Maggie Coggan, ProBono News)

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