The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says there needs to be careful consultation about any changes to the Disability Support Pension and is concerned about the short time frame given for feedback.
Patrick McClure’s interim report released on Sunday proposes moving thousands of DSP recipients with a mental illness ‘episodic’ in nature to a working age payment.
College President-elect Professor Malcolm Hopwood says this is worrying.
Indeed it is. What’s next? Moving people with relapsing MS off DSP in between attacks?
Hopwood goes on to point out the obvious that episodes of mental illness often require withdrawing from employment to manage the condition, thus making income unreliable/interrupted and contributing to problems regaining employment, thus the need for income support. Besides, AIUI there is an income cap anyway, so that anyone on DSP who is episodically able to earn a living wage is already not receiving DSP while that income level is maintained? Casting people with episodic mental illness as “rorters” is yet another pseudo-problem manufactured by this government in order to penalise people who already doing it bloody tough, especially at a time when the report’s own figures show that welfare dependency is already at its lowest level for 17 years (a figure that was on display in the official document equivalent of the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory in the cellar behind the door marked Beware Of The Leopard).
— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) June 29, 2014
The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) hopes that the McClure Report is about establishing a fair social security and services system into the future. If this is to be the case, the review process must be clearly and definitely separated from Government cost-cutting. The NWRN supports the principle as stated by the Report, that the social security system should provide adequate support while encouraging more people to work to their capacity, and that it should help people build the capacity they need to participate economically and socially, to the extent that they are able.
Responding to the report today, Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network said:
“There are ideas in the McClure report worth pursuing and it might lead to a simpler welfare system, such as changes to family payments and payments for young people. The key question for NWRN is, are the proposals fair and will they assist people into sustainable employment? The NWRN opposes a cost-cutting agenda that will leave people in a financially worse position than currently.
“The NWRN is pleased that the report recognises that action must be taken to address the inadequate single rate of Newstart. If welfare reform is to proceed in this country, the Government must accept that it needs to finally lift this payment, which has fallen to just 61.6 per cent of the pension rate. The pension rate itself is low enough.
“Australia already has a lean, tightly targeted welfare system when compared to other OECD nations.
“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.
Bernard Keane at Crikey notes one important omission from the report as well: the key issue of access to housing. It has been repeatedly noted by too many people to count that rental price increases in areas where the jobs are has been pushing those on welfare further into regions where they have higher and higher barriers to finding sustainable employment (and now the welfare system penalises people for moving from a high-employment area to a low-employment area even when they simply cannot afford to stay), yet
the interim report appears more interested in the perverse incentives created by income-based rent for public housing than in addressing the more fundamental problem of lack of public housing. The perverse incentives?—?in which public housing tenants avoid opportunities to increase their income in order to retain their housing?—?are indeed an issue, but a secondary one to the problem of lack of low-income housing.
Without an adequate supply of affordable housing for those on low incomes, it is rarely going to be practical for people to relocate from a place where they can currently (just) afford the rent to seek employment somewhere else. They would have to have employment locked in before they could afford to relocate (the new relocation allowance appears to be predicated on a job offer), and how many employers are really likely to offer them a job if they’re not already living at a practical commuting distance? It’s Catch-22, and the McClure Report doesn’t even acknowledge it.
The cost-cutting agenda is front and centre with this report, and better employment and social outcomes are the exact opposite of what its recommendations will achieve.