Abbott government to crack down on disability payments

PEOPLE receiving disability support payments will no longer receive money for the "rest of their working life" unless they have "no capacity" to work.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said there had been a "set and forget" attitude to disability payments and an independent review looked at ways to change that.

He said rather than relying on medical assessments alone, there would be work capability assessments too.

Mr Andrews noted 30% of people receiving the payment had mental health issues which meant they had episodic periods where they could not work.

He said it was important to have those people working when they could work instead of leaving them on support payments forever.

Mr Andrews said the interim review of Australia's welfare system had put forward a simplified payment structure with four basic payment types, among other potential reforms.

He said the report proposed fewer primary payments - limited to a tiered working age payment; a disability support pension; an age pension and a child payment - and fewer supplements.

"Australia's current welfare system is incredibly unwieldy, with around 20 payments and 50 supplements, which is complex to administer and difficult for individuals to access and understand," Mr Andrews said.

"With an ageing population, we also need a system that is sustainable in the years ahead and one that encourages most people who are capable of working to work, while supporting those who need it most.

"The welfare system isn't just about payments - the system should help people build the capacity they need to participate economically and socially, to the extent they are able."

The report looked at working age payments and services and considered whether they support people who have the capacity to work to get a job.

It identified four main pillars of reform:

  • simpler and sustainable income support system
  • strengthening individual and family capability
  • engaging with employers
  • building community capacity.

Mr Andrews said there would be community consultation for about six weeks  before the report writers prepare a final report for the Federal Government with recommendations.

He said the government would then consider the proposal and respond later this year.

Australian Council of Social Services chief Cassandra Goldie said she was pleased the report had acknowledged welfare payments did not adequately reflect people's needs.

But she said she was concerned about forcing already vulnerable families into income management systems which could create further problems for already sensitive family situations.

Ms Goldie said the welfare system must be about investing in people who are challenged and finding it hard to enter the labour market instead of focusing on the people believed to be rorting the system.

"Bad times can happen to anybody," she said.

"We do want to deal with the complexity because it's very confusing for people.

"If you lose your job, it can be really tough to work out what you need to do, where you need to go, what you might be entitled to to make ends meet and it can be incredibly demoralising for people."

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said her party was concerned about what the changes would mean for "our most vulnerable".

"There needs to be a very clear safety net for those people," she said.

"We don't want to see a situation where the government kicks those who are already finding it tough at a time when we need to be looking at how we support them better."

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said he was "sick" of seeing the Coalition "demonising disabled people".

"Labor supports measures to help people on the Disability Support Pension back into work where it's possible and appropriate ... What we don't support is cutting people's benefits on disability support in some brutal and blunt effort to force them back into inappropriate jobs," he told ABC's Insiders program.

People with Disability president Craig Wallace aid he was concerned about the classification of people with permanent and non-permanent disabilities.

He said people with mental health issues often had issues that were so disabling that made it difficult to manage work.

"The reality is for a lot of those people they can look all right today but tomorrow getting to work can be a problem," he said.

"These things are complex and there are grey areas.

"That's why it's important that we have a proper consultation process through the discussion paper."

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