Welfare Rights Review

Independent Report questions whether social security system is the best tool for activation

In 2014 NWRN commissioned independent qualitative research in to the experiences of people living on the Disability Support Pension.

The report by Dr May Lam, Living on the Disability Support Pension highlights the need for better employment services, more job opportunities via employer incentives, and adequate income support which meets the higher costs of living with disability and provides adequate financial security to transition back to work. It casts doubt on the presumption that the social security system is the best tool for activation.    

NWRN partnered with People with Disability Australia and Mental Health Australia on this study which involved 10 in-depth interviews with people on the Disability Support Pension. The report documents and analyses their experiences finding work or studying while managing a serious illness. 

The author of the report is Dr May Lam who has over two decades of social policy experience and work in employment services. Dr Lam is a former Senior Policy Advisor and Deputy CEO of Jobs Australia and is a former contractor to the DEEWR.  She was a consultant when we commissioned the report and has now taken a position as Senior Policy Advisor with the National Employment Services Association. 

All interviewees had previous employment in the paid workforce, and a number worked while on the DSP when their illness allowed. Participants were keen to work again, but some could only find voluntary and unpaid work because they couldn’t break into the labour tight market. Some were also active as unpaid carers. Most had expectations of future employment and had plans for employment or further education.

People were concerned that if the Government’s welfare plans leave them with less income to cover their daily expenses, which are higher as a result of living with a disability, they would be unable to manage their disability and look for work. The inadequacy of Newstart was a major concern for participants.

The report considers whether assistance available through mainstream and disability employment service programs works as it is intended for people with disabilities. It also questions the efficacy of a compliance based approach for people with disability, finding that compulsion can actually distort and demean the capacity for self-help. It recommends a number of lines of enquiry into the proposed model of activation, including around appointments, activities and sanctions and makes specific recommendations for further enquiries into the effectiveness of employment services for people with disabilities.

The report calls for further research into the following operating assumptions underpinning Government approaches to people on the DSP:

  • That DSP recipients are not self-activating;
  • That sanctions will activate DSP recipients;
  • That upon being activated, DSP recipients will get jobs sooner or later;
  • That the employment services system is appropriately helpful;
  • That there are suitable jobs for DSP recipients;
  • That they have a reasonable chance of getting those jobs;
  • That the compliance and sanctions regime and the employment that might result from it will not negatively affect the health and wellbeing of people whose disability or health condition has qualified them for the DSP;
  • That the employment they enter will not contribute to worsened health or mental health for this group.

It finds that investigation into the capacity of employers to take up the labour of those with partial work capacity is warranted current given that government employment policies have emphasised the need for employer demand-driven services

A copy of the report has been provided to the Minister for Social Services, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services.

Links