Senator the Honourable Mr Fifield,
Canberra ACT 2600
cc: The Honourable Kevin Andrews MP
Subject: Disability Support Pension changes in 2014 Federal Budget
Please be warned: you may feel the following is disrespectful. Please understand that our frustration is not motivated by party politics, it comes from our disappointment with your continuing refusal to meet and discuss disability-related policy and programmes with representative of people affected by ASD, one of the largest distinct disability types in the sector. Below, we express honestly the frustration that many among the rapidly growing numbers of people affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) feel about the Government ignoring abysmal outcomes for people with ASD in key areas including education and employment, together with the lack of engagement with ASD in the NDIA/NDIS.
This letter focuses on DSP changes in the 2104 Budget. And we ask some questions below that we would like answered.
The 2014 federal Budget papers say:
Over the last ten years real spending on social security and welfare has increased. Without policy change, over the next ten years spending on the Disability Support Pension is projected to increase by 75 per cent.
There are periods in life when people are unable or not expected to participate in paid employment, for example if they are caring, or retired. During these times the Government will continue to support those who need it most.
The statement that "over the next ten years spending on the Disability Support Pension is projected to increase by 75 per cent" is deceptive; we understand that this increase is in raw dollar terms ... that it does not mention or adjust for inflation over the next ten years ... and it does not recognise the long-anticipated growth in pension recipients due to Australia's ageing population.
In relation to people not in paid employment (such as carers, the retired and presumably, people with a disability), this Government's shift, shown above, from supporting all who need it to only supporting "those who need it most" is dishonest and deeply disappointing. It is dishonest because the Government's subtle use of language conceals this change from many people with ASD who this change affects severely. This cut in who gets support is just cruel to extremely vulnerable people who need support but who the Government deems do not most need support.
On disability employment services for people under 35 years of age, your joint media release with the Honourable Kevin Andrews MP (see http://kevinandrews.dss.gov.au/media-releases/92) says "The non-government sector has proven it can effectively deliver the services" and that the services "currently delivered by CRS Australia" will be put to tender. Labour force participation for people with a disability is reported to be just 54% ... which is 2% below indigenous labour force participation rate which is widely regarded as a national disgrace. Your regarding this abysmal outcome as proven and effective service delivery is disappointing.
For people with autism, labour force participation is reported to be just 34%. The autism/ASD community has observed wide spread cherry-picking of clients. The existing disability employment services are so inadequate that potential clients can't even get on a waiting list. And even the system operating in the private sector denies people their choice of service provider.
In our view, the non-government sector does not "effectively deliver the services". The Government may not know this (implausible deniability) because you refuse to meet representatives of the autism community to even discuss such matters.
Clearly, the Government's policy for disability employment services is uninformed policy.
The Budget also says ...
We want to support those who most need assistance, but we also want to be a Government that helps people work. That's why we'?re making some changes to the Disability Support Pension (DSP). Currently, over 800,000 Australians are on the DSP. Australia has lower rates of workforce participation among people with disability than other OECD countries.
Expenditure on DSP is currently more than $16 billion per year, and is projected to grow by 27 per cent by the end of the decade. To improve the sustainability of the DSP, the Government is announcing reforms to encourage people with disability to participate in the workforce where they have capacity to work. The reforms will help target the DSP to those most in need.
Review of DSP recipients
Some DSP recipients aged under 35 who were previously granted DSP between 2008 and 2011 will now be assessed under the current DSP Impairment Tables. People with a severe or manifest disability will not be reassessed.
People who have some capacity to work now or in the future will be helped to do this through programmes, services and activities.
Compulsory activities for recipients, aged under 35
The Government wants to ensure that people with some work capacity are supported to take steps to seek employment.
Under this reform, recipients under 35 will have a participation plan which includes activities that will genuinely assist in labour market participation. These activities could include Work for the Dole, job search, work experience, education and training, and connection with Disability Employment Services.
We lack confidence in plans "to encourage people with disability to participate in the workforce" when there are no jobs available and dysfunctional or ineffective disability employment services. The Budget fails to describe any future "programmes, services and activities" to improve workforce participation for people with a disability generally or the inequitable outcome for people with ASD.
Experience shows that "compulsory activities" for DSP recipients will not ensure these people achieve effective employment.
We see that your Department provided the following information about the 2014 Budget.
Disability Support Pension
From 1 July 2014, changes to the Disability Support Pension (DSP) will help young people with disability enter the workforce if they are able to do so.
Compulsory work-focused activities, such as work experience, education, training and job searching will help certain DSP recipients aged under 35 years to find and keep a job.
Certain DSP recipients aged under 35 years will also have their work capacity reassessed and eligibility reviewed, and will be supported to help maximise their work capacity.
From 1 January 2015, new rules will be introduced that limit the period a person can be paid and continue to qualify for DSP outside Australia. Under the new rules, most DSP
recipients will be limited to a total of four weeks payment overseas
every 52 weeks.
We welcome your apparent interest in or enthusiasm for getting people with a disability into employment. However, we are concerned that experience shows the approach described minimally in the 2014 Budget is not particularly effective. So we have several questions. Answers may help us understand ... or may point to more effective strategies.
How does changing the DSP actually "help young people with disability enter the workforce"?
Currently, how many people with a disability and who need support are excluded from those the Government deems most need support? If you can, please provide a breakdown by disability type.
What does "compulsory" mean in the above? Will people who don't/can't engage in "work focused activities" have their support or funding cut? Will there be penalties and if so what will those penalties be? And will there be penalties for employers who don't provide work experience ... or who don't employ any people with a disability?
Are you aware of, have officials warned you about, the risks to vulnerable individuals due to the pressure of these changes? Were you told that these changes can increase mental illness, self-harm and suicide among young people with a disability? What measures have you or will you take to protect young people with a disability, particularly people with ASD (who are often denied access to mental health services), from increased adverse outcomes resulting from these changes?
How can your Government make so-called "work focused activities" compulsory when the Government simply cannot deliver these activities for many people with a disability, especially for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
For example, primary and secondary schools exclude many students with ASD (either completely or for part of the school day) from education and training, a practice promoted by the High Court's Purvis vs NSW decision and the subsequent Walker vs Vic decision from the Federal Court. Typically, education and training for people past school leaving age demands previous success at lower levels; you need basic qualification to even start a higher level qualification. In relation to people with ASD, outcomes were described at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4428.0main+features62009 but the Government refuses to recognise/acknowledge these abysmal outcomes, and there has been no discernible action to address this profound inequality.
The existing job searching and work experience services are already stretched far beyond their capacity ... at least in the ACT where they cannot even offer a waiting list for their service. Making "work focused activities" compulsory is completely inappropriate; it is especially cruel to highly vulnerable people when they cannot access the activities.
What is "work capacity" Does it mean the same thing as "job capacity" (see http://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/disability-and-carers/benefits-payments/disability-support-pension-dsp-better-and-fairer-assessments)? If so (they are the same), why are you confusing the issue by using a different and unfamiliar term? If not (they are different), where do we find out about "work capacity"?
Who will reassess "work capacity" and review DSP "eligibility"? What capacity is there to do this "work capacity" reassessing and reviewing? When will these reassessments be completed for existing DSP recipients under 35 years of age?
What is the "support" and "help" available for maximising "work capacity"? How and where can we access this "support"?
What evidence do you have that these "supports" are effective for people with ASD in helping to "maximise their work capacity"?
Are you aware that most people with a disability really want to work? Are you aware that the evidence (mostly from overseas) shows that workers with a disability are usually more productive than workers who do not have a disability? And that this evidence comes mostly from overseas because Australia has disability employment rates that are a national disgrace (especially for people with ASD)?
Where are the jobs that can utilise all the assessed work (or job) capacity of people on DSP in Australia? What evidence do you have that these jobs even exist? Or what is the Government's plan to get employers to create these jobs? If jobs for people with a disability simply don't exist or are not being created, how will this Budget item improve anything?
The annual growth rate to achieve 27% growth in the six years to the end of the decade is 4.06% and the annual growth rate to achieve 75% in 10 years is 5.76%. Why are two quite different rates given in the Budget? How much of the projected growth is due to each of population growth, the ageing population and inflation? Why should projected growth rates like these scare or alarm us?
We know asking you these questions is pointless. We expect that you and your Department, as usual, won't actually answer our questions. But we still need to try to get answers.
We expect, it is also pointless asking to meet you to discuss these matters. You refuse repeatedly to meet representatives from the autism/ASD community to discuss any issues of concern to our community (such as ASD-related NDIS eligibility criteria that are just gobbledygook, the lack of ASD awareness/suitability in the NDIS design, etc.), so it would come as a total surprise if these matters elicited a difference response. We'll do your "meet with my advisor" (with no discernible outcome) sham, if you prefer or if you feel such an activity has some (invisible to us) value.
Of course, you are welcome to surprise us,
Convenor, Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia.
PS. Our practice is to share the contents of letters to and from politicians with our community via our website (http://a4.org.au/a4).