A recent review of Australia's welfare system is proposing major changes to income support payments. If adopted, these changes will significantly affect some people receiving the disability support pension and carer payment among others.
A stronger employment focus
The findings of the review have been released in an interim report called
A new system for better employment and social outcomes. It was written by Patrick McClure, former chief executive officer of Mission Australia. Four principles guide the recommendations for reform in the report. They are:
- a simpler and sustainable income support structure
- strengthening individual and family capacity
- engaging with employers
- building community capacity.
The review aims to give the income support system a stronger employment focus. It encourages all people to work as much as they are able. As a result, one of the biggest changes the report proposes is reducing the number of welfare payment types from 20 to just four. These would be:
- a tiered working age payment
- a disability support pension
- a child payment
- an age pension.
Changes to income support
Under this new system, the disability support pension would be available only to those with a permanent impairment and no capacity to work. All other people with a disability who need income support would be eligible for a working age payment. This includes people with mental illness. Carers would also receive a working age payment. There would be no other specific income support for them. The report suggests people could receive different levels of the payment according to their circumstances. Even so, it is expected this will be probably be less than the amount they currently get.
Other initiatives are also outlined in the report. One of these is income management, where Centrelink controls people's payments for them. Another is called mutual obligation and requires people to undertake certain activities in return for income.
The job problem
The report has worried many people with disability. Welfare and other advocacy organisations are also concerned. Many of the organisations support a focus on employment. However, as former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has said,
The problem is not with welfare; the problem is that there aren't jobs for people with disabilities.
The interim report mentions the need for employers to be more willing to make jobs available for disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. But it provides little detail about how this will happen. Many businesses remain reluctant to employ people with disability. This is especially true for those with unpredictable or episodic conditions whose reliability as workers may be questioned. As always, stigma is still an issue.
Not necessarily better off
There are many details and implications to consider in this report. The proposed changes are likely to affect every person currently receiving a welfare payment in Australia. Ideally, the outcome will be better support and genuine opportunities for people. Yet if the intention is to cut costs, the consequences could be less money for people on welfare payments.
Patrick McClure has admitted that
people may not necessarily be better off if his recommendations are accepted. According to Graeme Innes, 45 per cent of people with disability in Australia are already living in poverty. It is hard to imagine how this number might decline if the review's recommendations are accepted.
Have your say
A brief consultation period on
A new system for better employment and social outcomes has begun. People have until 5pm on 8 August 2014 to make a comment or submission on the review's findings. The full interim report can be found online. Accessible English and audio versions are also available. A final report is due later this year.