IA #6 top story of 2016: The cruel pension eligibility tricks facing Australia's disabled

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This May story on the Government's cruel changes to the disability pension had a lot of people up in arms.

The cruel pension eligibility tricks facing Australia's disabled

According to the Turnbull Government, if you are "able to get out of bed in the morning ... you are not impaired enough to warrant being paid the Disability Support Pension", says John Maycock.

SIMPLY PUT, according to the Government, only those eligible for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) are deemed unfit for work — everybody else is fit for work to some degree.

In other words, you cannot be unfit for work if you fail the DSP inquisition — bear in mind that you are only allowed to be temporarily incapacitated on Newstart and that after a certain length of time, you are forced to apply for the DSP. And here it is, the yardstick of disability that is used to test your incapacity. Are you able to get out of bed in the morning? You can? Well, you are not impaired enough to warrant being paid the DSP.

This is one of the Government’s loopholes — having failed the DSP test, the injury or illness is no longer relevant and it is very difficult to use it again to claim Newstart as an incapacitated person.

Another loophole, when applying for the DSP, is the criterion that the illness or injury has to be stabilised. This could possibly explain people with terminal cancers being knocked back — their condition is not considered stabilised.

Indeed, I know of a 60-year-old fellow who has a damaged vertebra, which is dislodged and moving out of place, causing various issues. The doctor told him that if he was not careful he would end up in a wheelchair. He was also told by a musculoskeletal physiotherapist that if he suddenly finds he cannot go to the toilet, he needs to get himself straight to the emergency ward. And the orthopaedic surgeon says the vertebra hasn’t moved far enough yet to warrant the risk involved with surgery and will be reassessed when his condition has deteriorated further.

Yep, you guessed it, his issue is not "stabilised" and he has been thrown into the unemployment "game” — yet who would employ a person who could, with one wrong move, end up in a wheel chair?

It seems the Government does not want to accept that people can suffer long-term incapacities that are barriers to employment, while not being totally and completely incapacitated. There doesn’t appear to be any real concern given to whether working will be detrimental to the condition, whether the requirements will exacerbate it, whether the condition renders a person unemployable, or whether the person is able to compete in the job market — the latter often feeding negatively back into all of the former. The only test is whether you are totally and completely disabled and that is not a test of your true capacity to acquire and hold down a job.

And, of course, the biggest barrier is also the elephant in the room — the number of unemployed people and the lack of job vacancies. There are currently about 1,500,000 able bodied, ready-to-go job seekers to compete for the 150,000 vacancies.

The person with the back issue that failed the DSP test has this to say:

I don’t care about the DSP, I never wanted to apply for it, they forced me to. I just needed exemption until my back is right. Of course I could use the extra money, but that’s not my issue, what I really need is exemption from obligations I have virtually no chance of achieving. Obligations that are affecting my mental well-being.

Why does the Government insist on forcing people with virtually no prospects of finding meaningful employment into the job network system? Why are they so determined to waste more money by paying these providers to force me to jump through hoops? Most importantly, why are they doing this to us when there aren’t even enough jobs for those who are able bodied?

Indeed, the Government not only funds the job network industry, but also supplies the clients. But surely “common sense” suggests it would be cheaper to make these people exempt from obligations and just pay their allowance, rather than to give more money to the job agencies? Especially when the Government is supposedly trying to reduce the cost of welfare delivery?

Consider the 70,000 people that the Minister for Social Services Christian Porter complains about. The Government has saved themselves something near $500 million a year in payments by dropping them from the DSP to Newstart and now the Government wants to give that money to job agencies along with the 70,000 as clients. It seems that Porter’s real complaint is that they are not going willingly and daring, instead, to fight for their dignity.

It has to be said that the Turnbull Government appears to be “propping up” the unemployment industry — providing them with a constant pool of clients to keep them viable. And not just by pushing people with chronic impairments into the job network but also with their track record – or lack thereof – in creating or maintaining jobs.

The system does appear to work well for the Government as a propaganda tool. In the first instance, they appear to be doing something about the unemployment problem by giving the unemployed “professional” assistance and every opportunity to find work. But consider, this also implies that the unemployed don’t know how to look for a job and can’t help themselves, although, in reality, the unemployment problem is the “lack of jobs”. This is the fault of the Government but the problem is being presented as if this “lack of jobs” is the fault of the unemployed.

But more so, the Government also “sells” the system as the solution to the so called “bludger” problem – in all its guises – a myth being aired with regularity by the Government and the mainstream media. However, it is a system that does nothing but belittle the unemployed and the impaired while implying to the public that the these people are lazy, and can’t or won’t help themselves. This is a circular narrative perpetuating the myth. So it seems the Government is, undoubtedly, using the job network system as a channel for their propaganda.

And they are certainly channelling money into the job network system — $1.3 billion on Job Services Australia along with $750 million on Disability Employment Services and $173 million on the Indigenous Employment Programme (2014). That’s $2.2 billion a year, roughly the equivalent of 25% of what was paid out in actual Newstart allowance — $8.4 billion. To put that into perspective, 20% of the total of $10.6 billion spent on the unemployed went to job service providers.

Consider, taking into account the recent jobseeker to vacancy ratio of 10 to 1, it could be concluded that the job service provider would be expected to have a success rate of around 10%. Now I am not a businessperson or economist, but I don’t think a good business model would be based on a 90% failure rate.

The Government is taking money from welfare and giving it to job agencies whose only real purpose appears to be to whip those on welfare while holding them up as examples of “bad citizens” — the task is obviously not to find them jobs.

So, then, the job network system serves a purpose for those pushing the anti-welfare ideology, while it belittles and punishes it also serves as a platform on which to anchor their divisive deserving/undeserving narrative. However, all of this begs the question — just who is it that has vested interests in the job network system?

Note: It would be remiss of me to not mention that the tightening of the parameters of eligibility for the DSP started under the previous Labor Government.

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