Mental health disabilities targeted in review

Welfare groups have expressed anger at changes to welfare for people with disabilities, which the federal government released in a draft report on June 29.

The McClure report proposes far-reaching changes to the welfare system and cuts the number of welfare payments to just four; a working age payment, disability support, child support and the age pension.

There are 830,000 recipients on the Disability Support Pension (DSP). Social services minister Kevin Andrews has suggested only people with a permanent disability would be eligible for the DSP.

He did not give any details about what would qualify as a permanent disability, but it appears people with mental health disability will be targeted.

The report’s author, Patrick McClure, said: “Thirty per cent of people on a disability support pension are people with mental health conditions and these conditions are often episodic in nature, for example severe depression or anxiety.”

Disability Advocacy Network Australia CEO Mary Mallett said: “Those people who are found to be no longer eligible [for the DSP] will be placed on Newstart allowance, which would mean a loss of $166 a week, or if they are younger than 24 would be placed on Youth Allowance, meaning a loss of $214 a week. These cuts will make their lives much more difficult.”

This review comes at the same time as the disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes finishes his term. The Abbott government scrapped his position, part of the Human Rights Commission, and his duties will be rolled into an existing commissioner’s role.

Maree O’Halloran, president of the National Welfare Rights Network, said: “It is disappointing and shameful to start serious long-term review of welfare in the context of media headlines about ‘rorters’ and threats to cut the income support of people currently on the Disability Support Pension.

“We welcome the need to provide improved and more effective employment assistance, and expand on wage subsidies and training assistance. While big business clearly has a role to play, the report should make explicit that Government has the critical role as a major employer in the country.

“It’s disappointing that expanding income management is being promoted as a solution to complex problems. $1 billion has been spent so far on income management, with little measurable benefit.”

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