Victoria Legal Aid

Our call to overhaul the 'dehumanising' Disability Support Pension

Monday 30 August 2021 12:00am

Thousands of people with disability and chronic health conditions are being denied the support they need due to a welfare system that is unfair, dehumanising and overwhelmingly complex.

In a new submission to the Senate Community Affairs References CommitteeExternal Link , Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is urging significant reform of the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which is designed to act as a safety net for those who cannot work due to permanent disability.

‘Through our work with hundreds of clients over the past decade, we have seen how the DSP is failing too many of the people it is meant to support,’ Alina Leikin, Managing Lawyer of VLA’s Economic and Social Rights program, said.

‘The system is opaque, difficult to navigate and unfairly excludes thousands of Australians from accessing the support they need. It puts people with disability at risk of poverty, social isolation and detrimental physical and mental health outcomes,’ she said.

Around 752,000 Australians are on the DSP, about 60,000 fewer than a decade ago when the Australian Government changed the eligibility criteria.

Improvements must also be made to Centrelink’s processes and decision-making, which our clients have reported is overwhelming and dehumanising.

'[Someone from Centrelink] said to me: ‘Do you have a leg? Do you have an arm? Well then, you don’t qualify,’ said one of our clients, Doug Reidy.

‘You feel less than human.’

Doug, 49, injured his shoulder in the 2019 bushfires and was later diagnosed with PTSD. He was rejected for the DSP three months ago, because his condition had not been ‘fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised’.

This requirement disregards the realities of accessing medical support, which can be out of reach for many people due to where they live or the cost.

‘It took 16 months to get an appointment with a psychologist,’ said Doug, who lives in East Gippsland.

‘I was given 37 referrals to different psychologists but there was no availability. It’s not a system that works for you, it is a system that works against you,’ he said.

Our recommendations

Among ten recommendations, we are calling for the removal of the requirement for otherwise eligible people to complete an 18-month work program or Program of Support (PoS) before receiving the payment.

We also call for an overhaul of the 15 Impairment Tables that are applied to determine the severity and permanency of a participant’s disability.

The system must be more supportive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disability, who continue to report facing steep challenges under a system that is not culturally safe.

‘People with disability have the solutions to make the DSP fair and accessible. The government must urgently overhaul the DSP and give people with disability a seat at the table in that redesign process,’ said Alina.

‘That must also include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who tell us the process of applying for the DSP is not culturally appropriate or safe.'

Dianne is a Gamilaraay and Wangkumara woman who has serious health conditions. She was denied the DSP because she didn’t have the right reports from a clinical psychologist.

‘The last time I saw a mainstream psychologist I felt stereotyped and completely unsupported, it’s also really expensive,’ the 36-year-old said.

‘I don’t want to do it again, especially because my counsellor [at an Aboriginal Health Service] knows everything and can provide a report telling Centrelink everything they need to know.

‘The government funds Aboriginal health services, but then won’t trust their evidence – it’s a terrible double standard,’ said Dianne.

The DSP’s maximum basic rate is $868.30 a fortnight, which is reduced if participants earn more than $180 in the same period.

More information

Read the Guardian's articleExternal Link about our submission.

Download and share our Disability Support Pension snapshot (pdf, 49 KB)

Read how to apply for the Disability Support Pension.

Learn more about the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

How we can help if you experience discrimination because of disability.

Reviewed 30 August 2022