Having a mental illness should not be an ”automatic entry” to a lifetime of welfare support Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett has said, embracing a federal government proposal to shift more people with mental illness into work.
While the paper not define ”permanent” disability, both Mr McClure and Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews have said that many mental health conditions are ”episodic” in nature.
The paper also says that people with mental illness have ”better life outcomes” if they maintain some workforce participation and that more could be done to support them to work.
Following the report’s release, Labor and the Greens have accused the government of demonising people on welfare.
On Tuesday, Greens disability spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the government was ”seeking to stigmatise people who receive income support, especially the DSP, to help with their campaign to cut social security”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has accused the Coalition of ”sinking the boot into people with disabilities”.
Mr Kennett – a mental health advocate and a former Liberal premier – said people should have their illnesses ”properly tested”. ”The very fact that you have a mental illness should not be seen as an automatic entry to lifetime support,” he said on Tuesday.
He said there were ”degrees” of mental illness that can effect an individual profoundly or ”less so”.
”Those who are entitled [to permanent welfare] beyond reasonable doubt should be looked after. Those who are not … must understand that there’s an obligation on them to try and return to good health as quickly as possible.”
According to Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan, many people with mental illness want to work, but are hampered by an enormous stigma around mental illness.
”Many people are ready, willing and able to get back into work, but the work environment and the structure of workplaces doesn’t always allow them.”
When asked if it was easy for people with episodic mental illness to get work, Mr Kennett said there were offices that treated employees badly, but workplaces were changing.
As of June last year, more than 31 per cent of people receiving the DSP had a psychological or psychiatric condition as their primary medical condition. This compares with 24.7 per cent in 2003.
Muscular-skeletal conditions make up 26 per cent of DSP recipients, with 12 per cent listed as having an intellectual or learning condition.