The McClure Report: stigmatising welfare

First, a press release from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

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).

The National Welfare Rights Network has also released a statement responding to the report:

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.

Categories: health, social justice

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10 replies

  1. I’ve written up a piece on what it’s like to be living with an “episodic” mental illness. It’s available over here:
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    I should note I’m not on DSP. I’m on Newstart Sickness Allowance, because I can, in theory, work more than 15 hours per week.
    The fun part is, in order to be employed on a regular basis, I’d need to find an employer who’s willing to accommodate my (episodic) mental illness. Unfortunately, Western capitalism doesn’t really produce such employers on a regular basis, because being a good employer for people with issues like mine involves treating your employees as though they’re individuals with highly individual needs and capabilities, rather than infinitely fungible cogs in the corporate machine.

  2. Megpie, that’s exactly what I thought when reading this. An ‘episodic’ illness may allow you to work in theory, but finding an employer who will just be fine with allowing time off when you need it is not easy.
    I’m really annoyed by the recommendations that benefits all be paid in terms of income management – so an eftpos card that only allows you to go to certain shops. Apart from probably just increasing reliance on the Woolies/Coles monopoly, I just couldn’t see that working for someone like myself. I like to buy my fruit and veggies from the city markets because it’s significantly cheaper, but many of the stalls don’t even have eftpos facilities. My landlady collects my rent in cash. Would I even be able to get cash out to pay for that? There are so many issues surrounding this.

  3. I have an episodic illness and this whole thing infuriates me. I am lucky enough to not have to be on DSP or any other Centrelink payment because I have a partner who can support me but (gods forbid) if anything happens to him, I am stuffed. I have no problem getting a job as I have lots of experience in my field and am highly qualified. It is keeping it that is the issue. I use up very quickly any sick leave entitlements I have and then use my annual leave entitlements. Very soon I am in a position that even if they will keep my job for me despite me being absent, I have no income. One cannot expect an employer is going to keep paying an absent employee with no entitlements left. So I then get sacked/fired/retrenched/put off. And we are back to square one.

    It is glaringly obvious that Kevin Andrews and the LNP have no idea what it is like to have a permanent disability or a chronic episodic illness. I would love to hand my condition over to them all for a few months and see how they fare.

  4. the recommendations that benefits all be paid in terms of income management
    *goes quiet*

  5. The income management thing frightens and frustrates me as well. Living in Perth, in rental accommodation, I know to a number how many properties are available in the Perth metro area at a rate which would be affordable from social security benefits alone (i.e. a rental of $250 per week or less). It’s generally around ten per week. So if you’re on a social security benefit and you’re living in the Perth metro area and paying rent, you’re more than likely to be paying more than half of your income in rent.
    (Before anyone says “public housing”, I’ll just point out our state government hasn’t spent any money on creating new public housing since about 2007. The waiting list, the last time I checked in 2013, was up to something like eight years for a one bedroom unit for two people. In order to remain on the waiting list, you have to remain on an income which would qualify you for state housing the entire time you’re waiting. I’m sure you can figure out the knock-on effects for yourselves).
    Having half my income quarantined onto a card I could only use at supermarkets and for paying bills for certain firms? We’d be bankrupt again in no time flat. Plus I’d never be able to buy a bra again – do you know how hard it is to find a 20 band F cup in Big W, Target, or Best & Less?

  6. I also remember a quote from Kevin Andrews that underlines the sort of casual misogyny and racism that these policies often dredge up:
    “The government believes that income management is important. We believe that it’s had very positive effects for quite a number of people, not the least of which are women and children in indigenous and non-indigenous communities around Australia,” he said.”
    Because, you know, women can’t manage money as well as men can? Let alone Aboriginal women.

  7. The point about Income Management is it’s a paternalistic policy which assumes if you’re living in poverty or in need of government assistance, it is because you’re unable to manage money. Nothing about the amount of money you’re being expected to manage being well below the poverty line. Nothing about punitive conditions which are attached to certain benefits, which damn near ensure the benefit recipients have a choice of poverty or nothing (a little thing worth noting: there are copious numbers of properties in rural WA which are available to rent for $250 per week or less. But I can’t move to rural WA because that’s “moving to an area of Lower Employment Opportunity”, and grounds for an immediate breach of the conditions of Newstart Allowance. Which means between 6 weeks and 6 months without any income at all). Nope, if you’re in a poverty-stricken situation, it’s because you’re lousy at managing money, blowing the whole lot on booze and ciggies, and it’s Your Own Silly Fault. Which therefore justifies Income Management entirely.
    I’m not sure, but I seem to remember reading in the Conversation some time this week even Centrelink’s own studies couldn’t prove any positive benefit from Income Management (or any of the other programs attached to the Intervention). The policy exists primarily because it justifies itself in the mythology of the policy makers.

  8. Oh my god. This just gets worse by the day. I’m so scared, I don’t know what I’m going to do. And there’s so many, many people worse off than me. What are we going to do? I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I’m literally sick with worry. What did I do to deserve this?

  9. Not that I want to give Kevin Andrews any points at all, but I think it’s possible that his quote upthread about income management refers to situations where some women requested income management because their partners or husbands were receiving the payments and then spending the money on an addiction, rather than food, rent, schooling etc. I can see how that could help if those were your circumstances, but I doubt those circumstances are so common that it would be beneficial to have everyone on such a scheme. I also think that if you were in a situation where one partner is spending all the money on addictions, then the government could do far more useful things to help than to simply quarantine all your money.

  10. Calcifer: Let’s simmer down a bit. First it has to be put into legislation, then the legislation has to be passed (unamended) through both houses of parliament. Meanwhile, the indications are the new Senate isn’t going to be as nice about passing government legislation unamended as the government was hoping. So we may well be getting all het up over nothing. I hope.
    (In latest Highly Local News, my partner’s part-time job at one of the local Big W’s has been cut back to casual, and he’s been told they’ll call him when they need him. That was on Friday, so far it’s Tuesday, and they’ve not needed him yet. Probably won’t need him until about the fortnight before Christmas at this rate. So until he gets himself down to our local Centrelink, my dole payment is the ONLY income our little family gets. To quote one E Blackadder, “the devil vomits in my teakettle once again”.)

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