Noose tightens on disability payments

A government crackdown on Australia’s Disability Support Pension has seen the highest application rejection rates in more than a decade.

Federal Social Services Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the DSP approval rate had dropped to less than 40 per cent in the last financial year.

That equates to a monthly average of less than 4000 approved applications, compared with an average of 7000 each month under Labor in 2008-09. Mr Morrison said the crackdown – officially implemented for all applicants on 1 July – would ensure a “sustainable safety net” of Australia’s welfare system, which spends $17 billion a year on DSPs.

But National Disability Services chief executive Ken Baker said any debate on welfare reform should be based on evidence, which shows about 45 per cent of Australians with a disability live in poverty.

“A concerted effort is needed to tackle what has been a longstanding problem about the underemployment of people with disability,” Mr Baker said.

“Getting a person into work at that key step in their life can be the difference between decades of employment… or decades of income support.”

The DSP is granted to those between 16 years and the qualifying pension age, who have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment or are permanently blind.

It is a fortnightly contribution only granted following assessments from a government-contracted doctor and on some occasions, a job capacity assessor. Individuals must be deemed unable to work or re-train for more than 15 hours each week for the next two years to qualify.

Disability support service provider E.W. Tipping Foundation, also known as Vista, has about 400 clients across Gippsland – many of whom access the DSP.

E.W. Tipping chief executive Graeme Kelly said he doubted the tightened rules would affect the organisation’s clients.

“I don’t believe it would be significant as we have had no concerns raised from anyone in Victoria,” Mr Kelly said.

“But it may be early days and we certainly would be concerned if it was to have an impact and (we) would advocate on their behalf if necessary.”

Mr Kelly said his main priority was the National Disability Insurance Scheme rollout, which E.W. Tipping was currently trialling in Barwon, near Geelong. He said although the DSP was an important resource for many clients E.W. Tipping worked with, he believed the NDIS would be a much more effective initiative.

“The essence of this will effectively double the government contribution to people with disabilities across Australia,” Mr Kelly said.

A spokesperson for Mr Morrison said the latest changes meant the eight out of 10 income taxpayers who paid Australia’s welfare bill would be reassured the DSP went to those who needed it.

“Therefore the government makes no apologies for putting in place policies that encourage people who are able to move off welfare and into work do exactly that,” the spokesperson said.

The tightened rules arrive to allow the system to absorb the cost of the NDIS – an additional $5 billion a year once it is fully implemented in 2019-20.