Newstart Allowance recipients who have disabilities or are sick face “unrealistic’ mutual obligation requirements to find work, a new research paper by the Whitlam Institute says.
The research found that people with disability ineligible for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) live in poverty on Newstart Allowance, which is received while you’re unemployed and looking for work, and are unable to afford basic necessities such as food, baby formula and sanitary pads.
The research released in the Newstart, Poverty, Disability and the National Disability Insurance Scheme paper examined the lived experience of people with disability in Western Sydney on Newstart Allowance deemed to have a partial capacity to work.
According to the Social Security Guide, someone with a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment has a partial capacity to work, and undertake Newstart obligations, if “the impairment prevents them from working at least 30 hours per week at the relevant minimum wage or above, independently of a programme of support, within the next 2 years”.
Researcher Dr Louise St. Guillame says the Newstart experience is often one of poverty, with “disability exacerbated by an inability to afford essential medical items or doctor appointments and the impossible requirement to meet obligations to retain Newstart.”
The report also drew attention to the fact that people with a disability experience difficulty applying for the DSP. Some of the main difficulties came from the application process and included the need for someone to provide medical evidence and meet the Program of Support (POS) requirements.
A male participant aged 42 told the researchers, “I struggle with Centrelink sometimes because you tell them you need support, but I think because they’re always asked, there’s not anybody that you can be referred to that can take the time to sit with you and go through what it is you may need. Most of it’s generalised … I struggle with my reading and writing, [and] I need that one to one communication.”
Leanne Smith, Director of the Whitlam Institute, says, “Many others have already demonstrated that all Australians who receive Newstart Allowance struggle to make ends meet. What our research has starkly illustrated is that people with disability on Newstart face altogether different and enlarged challenges”.
Some participants in the study said the expectations placed on them by Centrelink made their conditions worse or a second impairment was acquired while living on Newstart.
A female participant aged 46 told researcher that she “knew she wasn’t ready for a job.”
The participants psychologist noted in a letter when she was applying for DSP that “even if she was to get a job it would be difficult for her to fulfil the obligations because she is so self-critical, and yet the system reinforced and perpetuated her supposed incapacities and failures through making her apply for jobs which she did not get, and holding her to expectations which were difficult to achieve without adequate support”.
The participant added, “So it’s bad enough when you’re already pinpointing yourself. You’re a failure. You’re pathetic. You shouldn’t be alive. You’re already doing that to yourself...it’s no wonder you become even worse.”
Ms Smith called for change and that the recommendations made in the paper should be taken seriously by the Government, adding that it is timely that these issues are being raised given the heightened debate around the adequacy of Newstart.
“We sincerely hope that policymakers, the Australian Parliament and Government seriously consider this paper, its implications for those who struggle on Newstart and face difficult barriers transitioning to Disability Support Pension and associated support services through NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme),” she says.
The recommendations made in the paper include:
An immediate review of the system to determine the extent to which it creates or worsens impairment.
Acknowledging the structural and systemic barriers to the social and economic participation of people with disability.
Recognising the impairment/ medical costs of people with disability on Newstart.
Increasing the Newstart rate.