Worked up over proposed changes to disability pension and employment

A PROPOSED crackdown on eligibility for the disability pension and moving people into the workforce is causing people “angst” because “there just isn’t the work there”, says Orange man Scott Collins.

Mr Collins lives with muscular dystrophy, is on a disability pension and works at Wangarang Industries. While the proposed changes suggested by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews would be unlikely to impact him because of his higher level disability, he is concerned for his friends and colleagues. 

Under the proposed changes thousands of disability pensioners would be examined by independent doctors to see whether they are still entitled to their pensions.

Mr Andrews, who is overhauling the $15 billion-a-year disability support pension - which he considers the most troublesome welfare entitlement - also said changes to the pension could begin as soon as the May budget.

Mr Andrews says the aim of the change is to catch as many people as possible before they become entrenched on the disability pension.

Mr Collins said it was almost impossible to have a fair system because determining a person’s level of disability was too subjective. 

“There’s still a lot of conjecture at the moment and until its made policy it’s hard to speculate,” he said.

“People with a mental disability would possibly be hit hardest and it depends on the disability.”

OUR SAY: A HELPING HAND IS NEEDED, NOT A BIG STICK

The minister is also considering giving a fixed higher payment for the most disabled pensioners, with lower payments for people with less restrictive disabilities who might be able to work part time.

Carewest CEO Tim Curran said Australia had the poorest record when it came to people with a disability in mainstream employment and the rhetoric coming from the federal government was misleading. 

“They’re saying there is a massive cost blowout from people on the DSP (disability support pension) and there is absolutely no evidence of that,” he said.

He said people on the DSP lost payments for every dollar they earned over a threshold if they took on employment. 

He said the government needed to reassess that policy with tax reform, make workplaces more accessible, address social attitudes towards disability and look at providing more incentives for employers to take on people with a disability. 

Under Mr Andrews’s mooted change, disability pensioners who were assessed by their family doctors - before Labor tightened the system in 2011 - would be re-examined by medical experts at the Department of Human Services.

nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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