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Most vulnerable excluded from Disability Support Pension

A woman with a disability through the city with his means of transport. She keeps some roses in her hand.
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The number of people locked out of disability support and forced on to inadequate JobSeeker Payments has more than tripled since 2007 as a direct result of ever-tightening eligibility rules, a new report has found.

The Dead Ends report, by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL), Associate Professor Karen Soldatic, Western Sydney University; and Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, found an increasing number of people living with disability, psycho-social impairments and/or chronic illnesses are being assessed as having a “partial capacity to work” (impairment prevents them from working at least 30 hours per week) – making them ineligible for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and receiving the below poverty-line JobSeeker Payment.

In March 2021, an estimated 376,287 JobSeeker recipients were deemed to have a partial capacity to work, accounting for around a third of all those on JobSeeker Payments – in 2007 this group accounted for just 10%. Those living with a psychological or psychiatric disability or a musculoskeletal or connective tissue condition together accounted for almost 80% of this group, with more than 60% aged over 45.

“Those deemed to have partial capacity to work are some of the most vulnerable in our community. They’ve been left to languish on the below poverty line JobSeeker payment with little hope of finding a job,” said co-author, Dina Bowman, Principal Research Fellow at BSL.

“Back in 2007 the typical JobSeeker recipient was likely to be a young, able bodied man looking for work. Today the typical JobSeeker recipient is likely to be older, to be a woman and increasingly, to have a partial capacity to work due to a chronic illness or disability,” said Associate Professor Karen Soldatic, from Western Sydney University’s School of Social Sciences and Institute for Culture and Society.

The increase to the Age Pension qualifying age has further led to the number of older people, with a partial capacity to work, receiving JobSeeker for long periods.

“It is extremely concerning that those living with a disability, psycho-social impairments and/or chronic condition are forced on to inadequate JobSeeker payments, plunging them further into poverty. Our research on mature age unemployment has highlighted the harms associated with long-term reliance on unemployment payments which impoverishes people by the time they reach pension age,” said BSL’s Dina Bowman.

Meeting the criteria for DSP has been made increasingly difficult for applicants. For example, applicants must prove that their disability/condition results in a functional impairment that meets a threshold of 20 points or more on a single Impairment. For people with multiple disabilities and/or conditions this means impairments are assessed separately against the 20-point threshold, which obscures the cumulative effects of multiple conditions.

The report recommends urgent reform to the Disability Support Pension application and assessment process. It advocates for a strong social safety net to support the most vulnerable and to create community resilience in uncertain times. It also calls for investment in enabling employment support and inclusive employment.

The Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL) is a social justice organisation working to prevent and alleviate poverty across Australia.

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