The Guardian 9 February, 2005
Busting the "disability bludger" myth
Disability Pensioners have long been a target of John Howard and his government. In order to provide tax cuts for corporations and the rich, he has sought to drive the disabled out of the Social Security system and further into poverty.
To this end, people with disabilities have not only been subjected to increasing harassment and intimidation by Centrelink officials but also made the victims of a deliberate misinformation campaign by the Government to denigrate them in the public's eyes.
However, this image of the "disability bludger" is a myth, says new research from the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
"Many arguments used to justify a crackdown on disability pensions are false or misleading", says ACOSS President Andrew McCallum.
"This research outlines the facts of who is on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and why."
Findings revealed in the ACOSS report Ten Myths & Facts about the Disability Support Pension include the following facts:
Most Australians do not support a tough approach to people on DSP. A recent survey found that half felt it was reasonable to ask DSP recipients to retrain, participate in their community or improve their literacy skills but two thirds did not support requirements for people with disabilities to look for work. Seventy-five percent of Australians did not support requirements for people with disabilities to participate in Work for the Dole.
It is not easy to get the DSP. Recipients must have a serious medical condition independently assessed by doctors and vocational experts. The condition must prevent them within the next two years from working 30 hours a week or more.
Disabilities of people on DSP are more diverse and serious than "sore backs". Thirty-three percent of people on DSP have musculo-skeletal disabilities (loss of mobility and limbs), 25% have psychological and psychiatric conditions, 11% have intellectual and learning disabilities, 5% circulatory system problems and 21% other conditions.
One of the government's propaganda weapons in its campaign against the DSP is the fact that the number of people receiving the pension has doubled in the past 15 years. However, the ACOSS report dispels the assumption that the increase is due to a huge number of able-bodied people signing up as an "easy option", and that the reasons are many and varied.
Among the very valid reasons for the increase are:
Increased recognition of disabilities in society. The ABS estimates that the number of Australians of workforce age with a "core activity restriction" rose from 1.2 million in 1988 to 1.5 million in 1998. Improved identification of disabilities such as mental illness and lower mortality rates after accidents account for this increase. The strongest growth was in severe and profound disabilities.
The closure of payments and pensions to older women. The fastest growing category of DSP recipients is not older men but mature aged women. The closure of payments such as the Wife Pension, Widow's Pension and the Age Pension for women 60-65 years old means that more women with disabilities apply for the DSP.
The decline in the number of low-skilled full-time jobs and lack of employer support for people with disabilities. In the 1990s, all growth in full-time permanent jobs was in higher skilled employment when people with disabilities on average have a low level of skills.