Records the number of people with disabilities forced into Newstart



12 September 2019 04:58:18

Mandy Hunwick loved going to work, but then it became too stressful.

His vision became blurred, he could not remember simple tasks and became increasingly fatigued.

Key points

  • About 200,000 people with disabilities are receiving Newstart payments
  • Many would have previously qualified for the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which costs $ 370 a fortnight more
  • The success rate of DSP applications has plummeted from the introduction of value reduction tables

The 42-year-old was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), along with autoimmune arthritis and vasculitis, a disease that limits blood flow.

Ms. Hunwick was forced to quit her job at a Queensland government department and applied for the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

"I thought it would be a short and easy process," he said.

"It took 17 months. And I had to fight for it. I literally went through the hell just trying to get it. And it almost made me want to kill myself," he said.

He applied for the DSP in January 2018, providing Centrelink with statements from doctors and occupational therapists.

Eight months later, it was rejected. He applied for a Centrelink review and his application was again rejected.

"To say that you are not disabled enough when you can barely sleep a few days, you can't understand how someone can judge you that way," he said.

While applying for the DSP, Ms. Hunwick received a Newstart allowance but a medical exemption meant that she was not looking for a job.

Ms. Hunwick is part of a record number of people with disabilities who receive Newstart payments, with Centrelink denying their applications for the most generous disability support pension.

Ms. Hunwick's application was canceled by the Australian Administrative Court in June of this year, which actually ordered Centrelink to approve it for the DSP.

"Why would you want to make it so difficult for someone who is already living such a difficult life?" she said.

About 200,000 people with disabilities on Newstart

Mary Mallett, CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, said the move to Newstart is a "big concern" because there is a significant financial difference between DSP and Newstart.

The basic rate for Newstart is $ 555 to fifteen days, while the DSP is around $ 370 more, at $ 926 to fifteen days including supplements.

"Many gods (recipients) have additional costs just because they have a disability," said Mallet.

Rachel Park is aware of those additional costs, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS in 2017.

His symptoms include severe fatigue, muscle pain, blurred vision, memory loss and partial paralysis on the left side of his body.

Like Ms. Hunwick, the 24-year-old also thought it would be easy to submit her DSP application to Centrelink.

"I assumed they would become medical professionals. But they are not," he said.

His request was rejected last spring and was presented to Newstart.

"I have to go and find disability services every two weeks and I have to do a work plan and apply for a certain number of jobs a month," he said.

To meet his Newstart requirements, he sends requests online to employers and says he rarely gets a response.

Ms. Park said her neurologist and her doctor advised her not to work.

"When it comes to MS, you just have to focus on your health … if one day I become too emotional, or if I'm too stressed, my left side dies and I will limp," he said.

For Mrs. Park, receiving Newstart instead of the DSP had a big impact, and now she's back in Brisbane from Sydney to live with her parents.

Its additional expenses including medicine, specialist appointments and therapy to slow down the loss of muscle mass, which can go up to $ 500 a month.

"(The DSP) would be a big difference because I shouldn't have relied so much on my parents," he said.

"Getting just a little money on Newstart, makes your life much more difficult."

How did we get here?

There has always been such a wide gap between Newstart and the DSP.

At the end of the 1990s, the government decided that SDR pensions should be compared with a statistical measure called Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE).

Newstart was not compared, but was instead linked to the rise in inflation, measured by the consumer price index (CPI). As long as the CPI has increased, even Newstart would have increased. But then the inflation stopped.

"The rate of inflation has stabilized over the last 20 years. Therefore, the Newstart rate has been in line, while the rate of SDR, the average male weekly earnings rate, has increased significantly," he said. John Berrill, a lawyer who advises DSP applicants.

In 2002, there was only a $ 52 difference between the two payments. The DSP was $ 421 to fifteen days and the basic Newstart rate was $ 369 to fifteen days.

Today, the gap between Newstart and the DSP for two weeks has increased to over $ 370 for two weeks.

Point system for measuring the disability blamed

One of the biggest obstacles to accessing the DSP is the fulfillment of the "compromise tables", which award points to candidates based on their disability.

"The vast majority of clients and doctors think that if you can't work long-term, you're eligible for DSP. This is the old world, it's not now," Berrill said.

"Now you need to have 20 additional points on these compromise tables. And this is the killer where people lose these DSP applications."

In 2012, 15 compromise tables were introduced, covering disabilities from the function of the limbs, to vision, to intellectual cognition.

Supporters believe that many DSP questions are rejected because Centrelink does not accept the evidence provided by the candidates and the doctors are too overwhelmed to provide the information requested by Centrelink.

"Most of the doctors they deal with are in the public system, they are very poor in time … they don't have the time to visit the website to see what the requirements for this point system are," he said Berrill.

In 2011, before the introduction of the value reduction tables, almost 60% of the DSP applications had been successful. By 2018, it had fallen to less than 30%.

It's not a coincidence, according to Mr Berrill.

"DSP requirements are used as a blunt tool to deny people the DSP and transfer them to Newstart, which is a much cheaper rate," said Berrill.

The number of people who received the DSP peaked at 830,000 in 2014. By the end of 2018 that number had fallen to 750,000.

A spokeswoman for social services minister Anne Ruston said in a statement that the value reduction tables are a big part of the reason for the reduction.

"The former Labor government has modified the tables used to assess the loss of employment value for DSP, which has significantly contributed to the reduction in the number of Australians accessing this payment."

If you or someone you know needs help, call:

The statement states that the government invests over $ 800 million a year to help job seekers with disabilities, injuries or health conditions participate in meaningful jobs through disability employment services.

But many people with disabilities on Newstart like Rachel Park prefer to focus on their health instead of looking for a job.

He will have to meet the requirements of the Employment Services for the disabled for 18 months until he is able to get the DSP and the level of support that his medical team said he needed.

"I feel so helpless. And I feel so stuck," he said.

"I feel like I can't get on with my life."



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