ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Income support must address costs of disability

23 July 2021

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has joined the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) as well as ACT disability representative organisations in calling for an improvement in income support for people with disability in a submission to the federal Inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) published today.

According to ACTCOSS A/g CEO Craig Wallace: “If someone has a disability or chronic ill-health that prevents them from gaining or maintaining sufficient paid work, they should have access to income at a sustainable level that enables them to put food on the table, buy clothes, pay for transport and afford the many other, often hidden, costs of disability.

“We support recommendations from ACOSS that the Australian Government introduce a Cost of Disability and Illness Supplement to recognise the additional costs faced by people with disability. This supplement should be at least $50 per week. 

“The Australian Government also needs to abolish the program of support requirements and remove impediments to people with episodic disabilities trying to access DSP. Our submission contains harrowing accounts of Canberrans who have struggled to survive while trying to obtain the DSP. This financial and personal struggle often continues even if they eventually receive the payment. There are also pernicious roadblocks which hamper applicants as well as the health professionals who support their applications.

Wendy Prowse, CEO of the ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS), said: “People with disability are over-represented amongst those in receipt of JobSeeker. Analysis of the Department of Social Services demographics data from March 2021 shows that 32% of the people who receive JobSeeker (activity-tested recipients) had been assessed as having a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment, which would prevent them from working 30 hours per week.

“Advocacy services like ours are increasingly dealing with people on JobSeeker struggling to get onto the Disability Support Pension who clearly cannot work and are experiencing extensive trauma and distress in their complex dealings with Centrelink. Reforms to the payment must remove unreasonable barriers to eligibility and recognise that it's impossible for people with disability to survive on $44 a day, especially in a city like Canberra.”

Bec Cody, CEO of the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCC ACT), said: “Evidence shows that people on DSP have poorer mental health, and this shouldn’t be a surprise given many people on DSP are forced to live below the poverty line and juggle the basics like food, clothing, utilities, transport and other areas of life on top of dealing with the costs of disability. Case studies have also shown that people with psychosocial disabilities are also experiencing trauma and denial of support while trying to access the payment. The current system is not set up to cater for the distinctive nature of mental health issues and the recovery journey of each individual. The participation criteria are a problem for people with mental health issues, given conditions can vary from day to day.”

Kat Reed, CEO of Women with Disabilities ACT (WWDACT), said: “People with disability face many additional everyday costs and these include mainstream goods and services in every area of life from transport to housing as well as medications and even needing prepared food. It is harder for people to access cheap options or workarounds to minimise these costs. Only some of these items are covered by the NDIS as they are not classified as specialist supports. As a result, these additional costs need to be absorbed by individuals within their household incomes.”

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact:

Craig Wallace, A/g CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0477 200 755 or 02 6202 7200 (please contact ACTCOSS to be put in touch with a DSP recipient),
Bec Cody, CEO, MHCC ACT, 0409 070 709 or 02 5104 7716,
Wendy Prowse, CEO, ADACAS, 0417 141 049 or 02 6242 5060,
Kat Reed, CEO, WWDACT, 0468 324 695.