About 40% of new Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients may be ruled ineligible as the federal Labor government updates the tables for the assessment of work-related impairment for DSP.
Community services minister Jenny Macklin said on July 30 that the revised impairment tables will be implemented from January 1 next year and will apply to new recipients only. This is the first review of the DSP impairment tables since 1993.
A Centrelink review of the new tables found 38% of the successful DSP applicants in the first half of this year would be found ineligible under the new tables.
Issues such as obesity or chronic pain would no longer be considered enough to be eligible for the DSP.
Back pain will no longer be assessed by how much movement and mobility has been lost, but rather on what the condition prevents the person from doing — such as sitting for a long period of time, or bending over to pick up objects.
The July 30 Australian reported that Macklin said: “The new [tables] will make sure that people applying for the Disability Support Pension will be assessed on what they can do and not what they can’t do.”
Women are a growing percentage of DSP recipients. In December 2008, Macklin’s department said “the growth in female DSP recipients in the past 10 years is mainly due to the closure of alternative payments for women”, such as widows’ and wife pensions, a tightening of parenting payments and a raise in the aged pension age.
The changes also include new guidelines on mental health, the fastest-growing category of new DSP recipients.
Today 29% of disability support pensioners have a psychological or psychiatric condition; up from 23% in 2001.
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes told the Australian: “Much of the thinking on disability has changed from a medical to a social model, looking at how a person’s disability influences their capacity to function in life.
“So I’m supportive of the government’s clear intention to ensure that as many people with disabilities as possible are out there in the community, working and paying taxes rather than receiving benefits.”
Macklin said the tougher rules will help more people find employment.
But the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said it is worried the government’s plans to get disabled people into the workforce could instead simply force them on unemployment benefits.
The council’s CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said on July 30 that employers must take on more workers with disabilities if the plan is going to work.
Goldie said she supported the sentiment that people with disabilities should be encouraged into the workforce, but did not want to see more people pushed on to lower-paying allowances such as the Newstart unemployment benefit.
“Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the job prospects for people with disabilities, all the tightening of access to DSP will achieve is to leave people with disabilities $128 per week poorer,” she said. Goldie called for an increase in the Newstart allowance.
But there is reason to doubt Macklin’s claim that the changes are meant to boost employment. After all, cutting benefits to disabled pensioners won’t create a single new job.
The Labor government has been trying to cut the numbers of people on social security benefits. With this latest change it is attacking some of the most needy in our society.
The Labor government insists disabled pensioners should make do with less. But it plans to lower corporate tax again, despite record corporate profits.
Mining giant Rio Tinto this week announced $7.6 billion half year profit and BHP Billiton posted a record $10.6 billion first half profits earlier this year.
And, as the Australian Financial Review’s Laura Tingle said in June, billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest of Fortescue Metals Group “has never signed a corporate income tax cheque for any of the listed companies he has run in the past 16 years”.
In this period of financial crisis, the filthy rich cry poor when asked to pay their fair share. And their lackeys in government make us pay more than our fair share to balance books we didn’t cook.
The government should start making the richest of the rich pay their way before attacking the hard-won benefits of the poorest and least able.