Prue's catch-22: new rules means disability advocate unable to receive pension

OUT OF LUCK: Prue McCarthy is ineligible for the disability support pension despite living with cerebral palsy. Photo: STEVE GOSCH                                                                                 0308sgprue1

OUT OF LUCK: Prue McCarthy is ineligible for the disability support pension despite living with cerebral palsy. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0308sgprue1

PRUE McCarthy regularly talks to school students about her experiences living with a disability, yet stricter rules on the disability support pension (DSP) mean she is unable to access it and risks losing her house.

Ms McCarthy lives with cerebral palsy and started on the payment when she was 16, but about a decade ago she gave it up to claim a carer’s pension while she looked after her grandmother.

But when her grandmother entered a nursing home and Ms McCarthy relinquished the carer’s payment in August last year, she was not allowed to go back on the disability support pension.

Centrelink told her she had been rejected because she worked 15 hours a week at a non-government community service organisation - eligible recipients must be unable to work for 15 hours or more a week for a two-year period.

Ms McCarthy was placed on a Newstart payment of $120 a fortnight and a mobility allowance of $100 a fortnight, taking her two-weekly income to $920, but she said it was not enough.

“I’m still paying off a mortgage - I’ll probably have to sell everything and move back home to Mullion Creek with my mum and dad,” she said.

“I feel disheartened because my job requires me to go into schools and educate people with disabilities about the positives of living with disabilities, but for the last six months it’s focused on the negatives - it doesn’t give people with a disability incentive to work.”

No longer able to walk long distances with limited motor function in her hands, Ms McCarthy said household upkeep was exhausting and not having the DSP meant she could not access a cleaner.

“The thing is I have cerebral palsy and it’s not going away, it’s going to get worse,” she said.

Changes brought into force in 2011-12 allowed DSP recipients to work 30 hours a week before their payments were suspended, but the past 12 months has revealed a drop in the number of people approved for the payments from 65 per cent in 2008 to 34.6 per cent currently amid rising thresholds for the level of disability, which has even excluded some quadriplegics.

A Facebook page started by Ms McCarthy’s friends, titled ‘I Support Prue McCarthy’s Right to Receive the Disability Pension’, gained 981 likes in less than 24 hours.

A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said the department was happy to connect Ms McCarthy with a specialist service officer to look into the matter and provide further support and assistance as a matter of priority. 

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