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Senate inquiry into Disability Support Pension

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The experiences of people trying to access the Disability Support Pension are set to be examined as part of a Senate inquiry into the payment’s eligibility and review processes.

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The inquiry, announced on Thursday, is expected to look into the purpose of the Disability Support Pension (DSP), eligibility criteria and review processes of the payment, and related employment initiatives – including Centrelink’s “program of support”.

It follows a range of reforms aimed at reducing welfare spending and increasing workforce participation over the past 15 years, which critics say have created gaps in the social security system.

Department of Social Services figures show as of December 752,006 people were on the DSP. These numbers have remained relatively stagnant over the past decade – peaking at just over 800,000 in 2012.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said it was hoped the senate committee findings would inform a review to the DSP impairment tables, expected to come into place next year, and would ensure people with disability were receiving appropriate financial assistance.

The federal government currently uses a points-based-impairment-tables system to determine whether a person applying for the DSP meets the “qualifying impairment threshold”.

To be eligible for the pension people need to accrue 20 points or more across the impairment tables and be assessed as being unable to work for more than 15 hours per week for the next two years.

Those who accrue 20 points but aren’t assessed as having a specific severe impairment also need to participate in an 18-month “program of support” within three years.

During this time, DSP applicants must participate in mutual obligations to demonstrate they are unfit for work and live on the $620.80 fortnightly JobSeeker payment, compared with the $868.30 fortnightly pension. This is almost $10,000 less over the 18 months.

But findings into the cost of disability in Australia last year showed people living with disability need to increase their adult-equivalent disposable income by 50 per cent to achieve the same standard of living as those without disability.

Siewert said many people with disability struggled to finish the program of support and instead were on the JobSeeker payment with a partial capacity to work, which meant they had a disability or illness that Centrelink acknowledged prevented them from working full-time.

Government figures show in December there were 384,763 people on JobSeeker payment with partial capacity to work, an additional 70,000 people compared to the previous 12 months.

Siewert said forcing people to connect with the federal government’s employment services systems, including JobActive and the Disability Employment Services system, appeared to also increasingly be preventing people living with disability from finding meaningful and stable work.

“Labour force participation rates for disabled people have remained static for the past 20 years despite Disability Employment Services receiving significant levels of funding,” she said.

“This is an issue that causes a great deal of concern to disabled people.”

The senate will begin calling for submissions into the inquiry in the coming weeks, with hearings to be announced later this year and its report to be handed down in November.

“We’re hoping to hear from people with disability and people who’ve been trying to get DSP or have been rejected,” she said.

“We want to hear about people’s lived experience and how they’ve gone with the program of support.

“Is it meeting the needs of people with disability?

“And how many are living on another payment because they couldn’t get DSP? I’m sure every politician in this place has had a letter or a constituent raise issues around getting onto the DSP.

“It’s caused people a great deal of distress.”

InDaily contacted the Department of Social Services for comment.

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