A new report released has found people with disability spend $107 a week more on their basic living costs than Australians without disability.
Following the release of the research, disability advocates and researchers are demanding reform of the Disability Support Pension to improve the lives of people with disability who are struggling to get by.
The report was recently launched at Parliament House to highlight the economic and health impacts on people with disability, particularly for Indigenous Australians.
Cross disability representative organisation, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), raised concerns that successive Governments have made the current eligibility process too difficult for a person with disability, who may have been eligible in the past but can no longer access the Disability Support Pension.
Report researcher, Professor and Deputy Director of Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis and co-convenor of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra, Laurie Brown, says the Disability Support Pension is not adequate.
He explains that income support is provided to families with the same living standard as other households that are similar in every way but do not have a family member with disability.
“The gaps in standards of living are much higher for households where a family member with disability is on Newstart,” Professor Brown says.
In the NATSEM report, households with disability receive the same welfare support as households without disability, but there is still a $107 gap a week if a household has one adult with disability.
In Indigenous households, two in every five people relying on the Disability Support Pension ran out of money for basic living expenses in the last 12 months.
The report suggests a $183 per week raise in the Disability Support Pension for households with disability would close the gap and provide the same standard of living as households without disability.
The report also found 200,000 people with disability on Newstart would need a $345 per week increase to reach a better standard of living.
One of the last big findings from the report shows that if the Government spent an additional $3.1 billion a year on the Disability Support Pension, it would halve the standard of living gap for households already on the income support.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AFDO, Ross Joyce, says the combination of financial cost of living with disability and the reduced access to the Disability Support Pension is creating a significant economic, social and psychological stress 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,” says Mr Joyce.
“Over the past two decades, both parties put barriers in place for people with disability to access the DSP to make Budgetary savings.
“We need to wind-back those changes because they haven’t resulted in more people with disability working. Instead, they’ve resigned more people with disability to poverty and financial insecurity and caused stress and heartache.
“We know that the Australian community support the Disability Support Pension. The conversation that is now needed is about the adequacy of the DSP and how it is applied, so that people with disability are treated with fairness and dignity.”
Author of a Monash University report around the Health of People on the Disability Support Pension and Newstart, Professor Alex Collie, thinks there is plenty of evidence to suggest that stress is having an impact on the health of people with disability.
Professor Collie explains, “We found that disability pension recipients had two and a half times the rate of hospital admission compared to wage earners. People getting Newstart were three times more likely to report at least ten health conditions.
“There is a strong link between these sorts of health outcomes and living on very low incomes. One probable contributor to the poor health in these groups is financial stress.”
A third report looking into persons living with disability and service providers around Australia, found that the Disability Support Pension application process was very difficult to navigate.
Western Sydney Associate Professor, Karen Soldatic says, “It creates a severe economic impost on persons with disability, illness and/chronic condition due to their extensive requirements for medical evidence to verify the permanency of their disability and/or condition.
“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.”
The AFDO and other report authors are calling for eight issues to be fixed by the Government. This includes:
Urgent review of the Disability Support Pension
Three month assessment timeframe for the eligibility process
Ensure that the eligibility process is fair and not putting a burden on people with disability and their support networks
Make sure the eligibility process for the Disability Support Pension does not create further financial hardship and economic insecurity.
Remove the criteria for people to be fully treated and stabilised from the eligibility criteria to acknowledge fluctuating conditions and/or illnesses, rapid onset of disease and accidents and injury
Stop the Program of Support; it is acting as a barrier to people with disability successfully claiming the Disability Support Pension
Increase the security of transition from the Disability Support Pension into employment by reinstating the initial threshold of work hours from 15 – 30 hours per week to enable a person with a disability to participate in the labour market without significant loss of access to necessary supports
Provide Disability Support Pension information in a range of accessible formats, like braille, Auslan, large print, plain language or easy English