Welfare Rights Review

1-in-4 on Newstart has a significant disability

One in four of the total number of unemployed people on the Newstart Allowance has a significant disability, according to new administrative data from the Department of Human Services.

There were 173,060 Newstart Allowance recipients with a disability at March 2014, and 24.9 per cent were receiving support from a Disability Employment Service or had a ‘partial capacity to work’.  Over 133,000 Newstart recipients were assessed as having a work capacity of less than 29 hours per week (at December 2013).

The main disability types are assessed, and broken down by the top 10 medical conditions. The main health barrier experienced by job seekers on Newstart was physical disabilities, which affected the largest cohort of job seekers.

Some job seekers have more than one disability and 100,600 job seekers had physical disabilities affecting their limbs, shoulders and upper arms, spine and another musculo-skeletal disorders. This means that people had serious limits to their ability when lifting, walking long distances, or standing for prolonged periods.

Over 72,000 job seekers experienced depression or were dealing with psychiatric/psychological disorders or coping with anxiety.

Other common disabilities included hypertension, which affected 12,410 job seekers, and circulatory system problems, which was a serious problem for 10,365 people on Newstart.

It is extremely common for people to experience a physical disability in addition to a mental health condition. It is also our experience that many people fail to disclose their disabilities, as they do not want to be stigmatised, or they may be in denial or resist accepting that they have a problem.

There are large numbers of unemployed people battling major health issues. Many unemployed people are also affected by housing problems and some are experiencing family violence. Sometimes, the employment service system fails to adequately support these job seekers. Others may be challenged by drug and/or alcohol issues, or gambling problems, and these can be as a result of a mental health condition.

The extra costs of managing their disability is a constant challenge for people on the manifestly inadequate Newstart Allowance payment rate of less than $260 a week. Some are going without food or essential medications to cover accommodation.

The Newstart Allowance risks becoming the main payment for people with disabilities as Government impose tighter and more restrictive conditions on getting the Disability Support Pension.