Whilst there are some welcome recommendations in the Report, we urge the government to take responsibility for taking action on addressing the level of need and distress that people with disability experience while trying to survive on income support.

Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Article 28 stipulates clearly that people with disability have a right to an adequate standard of living and social protection.

Welcome recommendations:

We welcome the Committee’s recommendations to:

  • Remove mutual obligations for people during the process of their claims and making the program of support voluntary, “abandoning punitive compliance measures” and making employment services more effective.
  • Increase funding for disability advocacy, community legal services and First Nations organisations to support DSP claimants in their claims process and to improve linkages between Services Australia and First Nations organisations.
  • Establish principles in the administration of social security, including proactively assisting people to access support; treating people with respect.
  • Making adjustments to service delivery to meet individual needs.

More urgency needed:

We are concerned that a number of major flaws in the current system are recommended for ‘further consideration’, ‘investigation’ or ‘review’ when the evidence of harm or ineffectiveness is clear. This includes:

  • The recommendation to “investigate” ways to better support people on DSP at risk of poverty, especially those in the private rental market and ensure they can cover their own living costs, while failing to recommend a lift in Rent Assistance.
  • The recommendation to ‘investigate’ the impact that the requirement that a condition be ‘fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised’ to be eligible for the DSP. This currently excludes many people who are acutely unwell, including those being treated for cancer who are in an intolerable position. Urgent action to reform this requirement is required.
  • The recommendation to ‘consider’ reform to the rigid 20 points system to enable the points to be accumulated from across the impairment tables. The review of the impairment tables must be an imperative, as the narrow criteria imposed by the impairment tables do not account for co-occurring disabilities. Access to the DSP should consider the whole person.
  • The recommendation to ‘consider’ reintroducing the treating doctors report.

People with disability have waited long enough, especially during the current pandemic. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted people with disability with additional and unreasonable costs imposed to stay safe. Lack of access to affordable housing, a failing NDIS and supply chain issues are additional costs for people with disability, who are already living in poverty.

Now is not the time to ‘further consider’ or ‘investigate’ the issues with DSP which formed the basis for this Inquiry in the first instance. People with disability need urgent action.

We urge the next government to form a Ministerial or DSS Departmental advisory group led by agencies representing people with disability and to urgently implement the recommendations of the review as early as possible.

Gaps in recommendations:

The recommendations are disappointingly silent on the urgent need to increase the Jobseeker payment for all recipients, including those with a disability, and the failure to make any meaningful recommendation to directly address the additional cost of disability.

We call on the Minister to act quickly to implement the inquiry’s recommendations and do everything in its power to end the cruelty being experienced by people with disabilities and serious illnesses when trying to access the DSP.

Collectively we have heard many stories of incredible stress and trauma experienced by people applying for the DSP, such as Bianca and Kerry, who said this in their submissions to the inquiry:

“I supported my father to apply for the DSP following his stroke/acquired brain injury and being let go from his job of 23 years due to this. The process was incredibly stressful, and he needed me his social work qualified daughter, to complete the entire process for him. After taking hours to complete the initial application, it was rejected. The appeal process was slow, painful and was not efficient. My father was lucky to have educated supports around him, but the process made me feel for those who don’t and have to navigate on his own. Support services were not helpful and the application is not disability friendly.” Bianca Steinbock

“Applying for the DSP is extremely difficult as there is so many forms and documents involved. At times these may have to be resubmitted making the process of applying next to impossible. Also, having to deal with different people over the phone each time also means starting over from scratch making the process just too overwhelming at times. There are so many barriers in place, especially when financial stresses from struggling on JobSeeker are so high, it is just too impossible to apply over and over again.” Kerry O’Hara

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“ACOSS hears from people caught up in this cruel and unjust system every day and we cannot stress how much suffering this causes people in our community. We know that around 30 per cent of people on income support payments should be on the DSP, including people with terminal illnesses,
and because of the inflexible and misguided eligibility rules they are forced to survive on jobseeker payments and exposed to onerous mutual obligation requirements.”

“In addition, the assessment of eligibility has operated in a vacuum away from the expertise of treating doctors and the whole process has been undertaken in bureaucratic and heartless way that creates great stress and anxiety for people already dealing with the impact of serious ill-health and

“The social security system should provide an adequate income to enable people with disability to cover the basics and the additional costs of disability. It should support those who want to seek employment to do so and it should treat people with disability with respect and dignity at all stages of the process.”

PWDA’s Board said:

PWDA Board Director Nicole Lee: “The system is punitive. It’s not good enough to have to hedge your bets and have to choose which disability will be more likely to be taken into consideration when applying for the DSP. We need to take into account the whole person and urgently address the issues with the impairment tables.”

PWDA Board Director Clare Gibellini: “It is no secret that prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, people with a disability were disproportionately disadvantaged by the systems that were meant to protect us. We were excluded from many of the extra payments provided to support people during COVID. During the pandemic, we have seen the gap widen significantly for people who rely on income support. It is no longer a gap, it is an ever-widening chasm.”

AFDO CEO Ross Joyce said:
“We believe that people with disability are experiencing institutional abuse and neglect when they come into contact with the eligibility and review processes for the Disability Support Pension. AFDO want the Department and Services Australia to adopt the Social Model of Disability to frame access to the Disability Support Pension in order to address these human rights concerns and ensure participation and representation by people with disability in the mechanism of social inclusion that is the Disability Support Pension.”

“AFDO believes that the Department of Social Services and Services Australia should be transparent and as a matter of urgency, host a Departmental Briefing with welfare rights and disability rights agencies on how they intend to respond to the DSP Senate Inquiry Report.”

CYDA CEO Mary Sayers said:
“Young people with disability struggle to secure access to the Disability Support Pension when they need it, and are forced onto the lower funding level of Jobseeker or Youth Allowance with partial capacity to work. While this review has some welcome measures to reduce administrative barriers, it falls short of looking at the “adequacy” of the DSP, which forces people with disability, including young people to live in poverty.”

NEDA CEO Dwayne Cranfield said:
“We thank ACOSS for again being the voice of reason with regard to the issues of inequity and poverty, we applaud their position concerning the rights of our indigenous community and extend our concern for those people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CaLD). Australia is a nation built on migration with over 25% of the population identifying as CaLD, we believe that in an equitable society all people should have access to culturally sensitive advocacy support services.”

For further information, please contact:

  • ACOSS – Bronwen Reed on 0419 626 155
  • People with Disability Australia (PWDA) – Michael Badorrek on 0408 682 867
  • Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) – Ross Joyce on 0402 842 040
  • Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) CEO – Mary Sayers on 0407 126 351
  • National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) CEO – Dwayne Cranfield on 0407 878 933
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