An Abbott Government plan to get doctors to assess people’s eligibility for the Disability Support Pension has been slammed by disability advocates.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews announced recently that Australian Government-contracted doctors would assess new claims for the DSP from next year to “achieve consistency and equity across the country”.
“This measure, which starts on January 1, is not aimed at those who may never be able to work but rather people who can work with independent advice and the right support,” Andrews said.
“The Government is committed to maintaining a safety net for those who cannot support themselves but many others remain on the pension longer than they need to.”
Andrews said the measure follows other changes to the DSP, which were aimed at upholding the integrity of the welfare system and ensuring support goes to those who need it.
“Another recent change to the DSP has included compulsory participation activities for people aged under 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week,” he said.
“This measure has already helped thousands of DSP recipients to engage with Job Services Providers with the view to getting back into the workforce.”
But People With Disability President, Craig Wallace, told Pro Bono Australia News that the plan could potentially see some people being wrongfully diagnosed as fit to work.
“What I would say, no one wants abuse of the system or welfare fraud, and we have said that the Government should be focussed on ensuring that there is compliance and that people aren’t abusing payments, rather than changing the eligibility for DSP, which just pushes more people onto Newstart,” Wallace said.
“Having said that my problems with having independent contractors who aren’t connected to a person’s medical history is that those doctors may not be in a position to assess what that person is going to be like in a workplace over a period of time. Is there condition stable?
“The thing we worry about is people going to jobs, then falling out of them and then falling onto Newstart. We don’t want that happening.”
Wallace said he feared that people with disability were being cast as burdens on other taxpayers and that the timing of the announcement was worrying.
“I am concerned that we seem to be once again alarming everyone who is on Disability Support Pensions by talking about tightening them up,” he said.
“I am worried that we are frightening vulnerable people close to Christmas. There’s a pattern here. This Government last year on Boxing Day and Easter Sunday and now 10 days out from Christmas we have these bombshells dropped against people with disability and welfare recipients that frighten them.
“The other thing that happens every time they drop one of these stories into the tabloid media is we get people with disability being referred to as scroungers and rorters and that is really damaging to people with disability. It potentially exposes people to a lot of abuse and attitudinal problems.”
Wallace said the Government needed to listen to groups like the Australian Medical Association, which had also criticised the plan.
“I would certainly be concerned to see if we have similar experiences to the UK where doctors felt the pressure to declare people eligible to work. It does worry me that people might be set up as enemies of their own doctors,” he said.
“We would like to change the conversation altogether. We think that we need a jobs plan not new doctors and new inquiries into disability employment.”
This article first appeared on ‘Pro Bono News’ on 15 December 2014.