The Albanese government has backed down from a controversial proposal that would have made it harder for people with drug and alcohol-related conditions to get access to the disability support pension.

But it is still facing calls to do more to address longstanding problems with the design of the disability pension, amid record levels of people on jobseeker living with a disability.

The government has proposed new “impairment tables” that govern eligibility for the pension under a once-a-decade consultation and review process.

Under the stringent rules, a person must generally obtain a “severe” rating of 20 points under the criteria of one of the impairment tables.

Advocates have said the proposed revisions – which have been criticised by welfare groups for blocking too many people from support – are a mixed bag. Positive changes include better access for people with cancer and mental health conditions, though the Greens argue it contains only “minor tweaks”.

In consultation meetings several organisations raised the alarm about a plan to scrap the specific impairment table for people with severe drug and alcohol conditions, saying it would mean some of the most vulnerable applicants would be forced on to jobseeker.

On Tuesday, a Department of Social Services spokesperson revealed the social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, had “reversed the measure to remove table six”.

The spokesperson said it was reversed as part of the 2022-23 budget process. That decision was not announced publicly and the department’s consultation material still included the proposal to scrap the drug and alcohol table.

“The reversal of this measure is a clean slate on this issue, as the department continues its review of the disability support pension impairment tables,” the spokesperson said.

In 2018, the former Coalition government had also proposed scrapping table six – though it did not plan to allow those with alcohol and drug-related conditions to apply via other tables. About 450 people a year were expected to be affected. The move was rejected by the Senate.

Ian Turton, of the Illawarra Legal Centre, said he was still concerned the language in some of the new impairment tables would be problematic for some applicants.

“Too often the word ‘unable’ appears in the suggested reforms, rather than ‘experiences severe difficulty in performing’,” he said.

“These are meant to assess their ability to work. In the workplace the issue isn’t the ability to do something once off and then rest. It’s ‘can this person sustain tasks like this in a work-based environment?’ Some of the tables are still an ‘all or nothing’ test. I’ve seen Centrelink lawyers say, ‘This client picked up a pen, that means they can lean forward and pick up a light object’, which is one of the tests in the tables. There are too many gotcha moments in the changes.”

The Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, welcomed some of the improvements, such as “better recognising various conditions or disabilities, including neurodiversity”.

“Ultimately, however, amendments to the impairment tables can only go so far,” Goldie said. “The real issues with access to DSP will still need to be addressed.”

Kristin O’Connell, a DSP recipient and spokesperson for the Antipoverty Centre, said advocates had long complained people needed to meet 20 points in one table rather than across tables. Those who hit 20 points across several tables – ie they have several moderate conditions – must complete a “program of support”, which is essentially up to 18 months of job search, in order access the disability pension.

A Senate inquiry last year found the disability support pension had “serious flaws with … its underlying policy framework, the way that it is administered, and how applicants are able to access it”.

That inquiry’s chair, Greens senator Janet Rice, said the impairment table’s review proposed “just a few minor tweaks”.

Rice said the government had “ignored the inquiry’s 30 recommendations based on evidence from community members, advocacy organisations and medical practitioners”, and was therefore ignoring “thousands of people across Australia who are unable to access the income support they need”.

A majority of applicants are denied access to the disability support pension each year, in part because of a requirement that a person’s condition is “fully diagnosed, fully treated, and fully stabilised”.

That contributed to record levels of people on the jobseeker payment who have a disability.

Under the proposed tables this criteria will be changed to “diagnosed, reasonably treated and stabilised”, which Turton and other advocates welcomed.

But Rice and O’Connell both said the rule should be scrapped entirely. “If it’s functionally impairing you, why should you need to have those criteria fulfilled?” O’Connell said, adding it was a barrier to people in poverty because it was expensive to be treated.

Other changes are expected to make it easier for people with cancer to get the pension, while, crucially, those with mental health conditions will be able to use evidence from a registered psychologist, rather than only a clinical psychologist.

A Department of Social Services spokesperson said: “The proposed changes to the Impairment Tables are to improve consistency, address advancements in medical technology and terminology, provide clearer guidance and improve accessibility. The changes aim to ensure there is better clarity around eligibility for the Disability Support Pension.”

They noted feedback “received through the recent public consultations will be considered in finalising the Impairment Tables Instrument prior to it being tabled in the parliament”.

The spokesperson said the program of support was outside the scope of the impairment tables review.

Rishworth was approached for comment.



Source link

Leave a Reply