Research finds Disability Support Pension falls far short of ‘close the gap’ goals

An empty wheelchair at the bottom of a staircase.

New research from Western Sydney University shows that the Australian Government’s ongoing changes to the Disability Support Pension (DSP) acutely disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in regional areas and cause severe stress on the service providers who support them.

Dr Karen Soldatic and Dr Michelle Fitts from the University’s Institute for Culture and Society have published a journal article (opens in new window), in Global Media Journal, which details the barriers that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with disability face when attempting to access the DSP.

These barriers include the financial costs of accessing specialist medical care, and the difficulty of keeping scheduled appointments due to the inadequacy of regional transport facilities for people with a disability.

Dr Soldatic, a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute, says while the government is set to save billions of dollars through its reforms to the DSP, many people are struggling to afford basic life essentials like food and shelter as they attempt to meet the rigid and ever-changing eligibility criteria.

“The restrictions by Australian Government to the right to social security are critically failing the realisation of the ‘close the gap’ goals and targets by directly undermining the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living with disability,” says Dr Soldatic.

“It is often Aboriginal Australians living outside Australia’s large urban cities who are most adversely affected by the DSP reforms.”

Researchers conducted interviews with medical professionals, who reported that the new DSP criteria are “extreme” and denying disability-specific income support to many clients living with severe injury and illness.

“Clients with conditions considered treatable, for example cancer and mental illness, face significant challenges in accessing the DSP,” says Dr Fitts.

The study found that a further challenge arises during the period that people are collating evidence for their application, awaiting their application outcome, or submitting an application to appeal the outcome. During this time, they are often placed on the Newstart Allowance and are therefore required to comply with its work and reporting requirements.

“There is a gap in support for these clients as they await the outcome of their DSP application, even though it is clear from their medical evidence that they are living with high levels of impairment, chronic conditions and disability,” says Dr Fitts.

“Their medical condition often affects their ability to meet the Newstart Allowance work and reporting requirements.”

Dr Soldatic says the research highlights the need for the government to engage with service providers and incorporate their feedback within DSP reforms so that it can meet the needs of all people living with a disability.

Posted: 19 October 2018.

Media Contact:

Emily-Kate Ringle-Harris, Research Media and Communications Officer, Institute for Culture and Society.

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