Advocacy groups for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) people say the rate of the Disability Support Pension is too low to cover the living costs of a person with disability, and are also advocating for an overhaul of the system.
CALD representative groups presented to the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee’s Inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the Disability Support Pension on 1 November.
They called for changes to the residency requirements - including that a person must have been living in Australia for ten years with a continuous period of at least five years - as well as more support for people to apply to the DSP as they may face language or cultural barriers to accessing the information and application forms they need.
The groups agreed the application process for the DSP, as well as the appeals process for rejections, should be simplified and streamlined to make them more accessible.
Chief Executive Officer of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA), Dwayne Cranfield, says the DSP’s view of disability is more of a medical approach than a social one, which causes a rift in supports.
“If you look at the NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency] and other organisations which influence disability culture in Australia, the two things are incongruous, they don't meet,” he says.
“We believe that rationale removes people from being able to access the DSP.”
According to NEDA’s submission to the inquiry, one in four people with disability identify as CALD and the residency requirements not only force them to live with financial insecurity, but also with restricted ties to their family once they do receive the DSP.
The submission states, “DSP recipients will still receive DSP payments if they leave Australia temporarily but for a period of up to 28 days (accumulative, within 12 months). This harsh portability restriction directly disadvantages Australians born overseas, as they are often required to travel long distances to maintain important ties with their families and places of birth.”
The submission also says the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities Committee has advised that it views the residency criteria of the DSP as disability discrimination and that the ten year residency period should be removed.
In its submission, South East Community Links (SECL), which supports people in need of a range of supports in highly diverse areas of Melbourne, notes 200,000 of the more than 722,900 people on JobSeeker across Australia are either sick or disabled.
“However, Newstart Allowance is not meant for people with disabilities. It is designed as an
‘allowance’ of approximately $40 per day until the recipient finds work,” the submission states.
“Living with a disability has expenses which a Newstart Allowance does not cover. People with a disability in Australia are 2.7 times more likely to be at risk of poverty than in other OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries.”
SECL is also asking for reports needed to apply for the DSP to be billable under Medicare to support those who don’t have the finances to pay for reports themselves.
Rejections of applications for the DSP have increased
Figures have surfaced around the Senate inquiry showing the DSP had the highest claim rejection rate of all Services Australia payments in the 2020/2021 financial year.
About 60 percent of applications for the DSP were rejected, numbering 57,000 rejected applications in total.
Only 70 percent of the claims submitted were processed within 49 days - and that percentage excluded any claims not processed within 84 days - making the wait times for a response to a DSP claim the worst of any Services Australia payment.
An evaluation of the DSP released by management consultants Health Outcomes International (HOI) in November 2020 found changes made to the DSP by the Government in 2015 caused the higher rates of rejection.
HOI say this is because of the introduction of a Disability Medical Assessment which needs to be completed by a Government-contracted Doctor.
The assessment replaced the treating doctor’s report, which could be completed by the applicant’s doctor of choice, usually a health professional with a full understanding of the applicant’s condition or disability.
Since July 2015 almost 200,000 people who have been rejected for the DSP have then received JobSeeker (formerly known as the Newstart Allowance) instead.
Advocates consulted by HOI say JobSeeker forces people not only to live below the poverty line but also to have payments cancelled from time to time when their condition means they can’t meet JobSeeker requirements.
People rejected for DSP who were able to receive JobSeeker made up just over 70 percent of all rejections, with others typically not receiving any form of support payment after their DSP rejection.
To improve the DSP system and ensure the people who need disability support receive it, HOI recommends the treating doctor's report should be reinstated for greater consistency of information and to “reduce the burden of collating medical evidence for applicants”.
The organisation also suggests that people applying for the DSP should receive more support for their application.
In the case of a woman who shared her story with the Senate Committee through the National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children Inc (NCSMC), the treating doctor’s report would make the DSP application process accessible.
The mother says she escaped family violence but is too traumatised to work or even participate in the community, as she is often triggered by something as common as a loud voice.
She can’t afford the trauma counselling which she knows she needs and the GP which helped her to escape the violence is one of only a few people who understand her condition, yet the GP is not considered to be specialist enough to help her apply for the DSP.
NCSMC’s submission to the Senate Committee states, “NCSMC continues to provide information and support to single mothers who have either had their [DSP] application declined or once they ascertain the application complexity, its rigidness, and the inability to use their treating doctor they do not proceed. It is viewed as a fearful process rather than one that is reasonable or fair.”
The Senate Committee has another hearing scheduled on November 16 and is expected to report on its findings in February 2022.