The Australian Federal Budget is out, and it’s being feted in the media as a sober, sensible fiscally reasonable budget in which there are no really big winners or losers. “No frills, no thrills, no spills”, says the ABC.
Except for people with disabilities. What has received a little bit of coverage is the fact that there is no improvement in funding for public mental health, despite lots of rhetoric in that direction from Rudd and his cronies. There is apparently nothing toward practical improvement for Indigenous health, and $380M in cuts for disability pensions.
Applicants for the Centrelink disability pension who are considered “borderline” will be routinely denied, put onto Newstart (unemployment payment), compelled to stand in line every fortnight and job-search on an ongoing basis, and sent to “up to 18 months” of mandatory job training.
Let me guess – “borderline” means “the probably currently-nondisabled official making the assessment will decide that they can’t see the disability concerned”. I expect this to disproportionately affect people with mental health issues, fatigue based disabilities, autoimmune problems, chronic pain, and so forth.
And let me guess again: if PWD are too sick to get to their training courses but can’t “prove” that to some random douchebag’s satisfaction, they’ll get breached (decreed as being in breach of Centrelink requirements) and, in the absence of substantial family support and the ability to organise themselves through a litany of appeals and assessments, end up on the streets.
This combination of further increases in the already huge pension obstacles for people with “less clear” disabilities, along with no improvements in mental health and Indigenous health programmes, is, in my opinon, a recipe for a huge increase in homelessness.
But Treasurer Wayne Swan is spinning this as being for PWD’s own good.
New applicants will first undergo a ”job capacity assessment”, as they have always done. But the government is reviewing the impairment tables to make it a tougher assessment and harder to get to first base. After that unless people are manifestly incapable of any paid work, or clearly incapable of working even 15 hours a week, they will be put on the Newstart Allowance. Then they will be sent on a training course, either with a special disability employment agency or a regular one. The training is meant to increase the numbers who can work at least 15 hours a week, thus disqualifying them from the pension.
Efforts to curb the growth in the numbers going on the pension would be admirable, given people mostly stay on the pension for life. But the move is not admirable in the absence of an increase in the level of Newstart Allowance, or a loosening of its income test, which exacts harsh punishment on those who get a little work.
On the disability pension a single person can live a frugal life on $350 a week. On Newstart a single person is plunged into poverty on $231 a week. How many of the 25,407 people who might once have qualified for a disability pension will end up, not in work, but unemployed and in poverty?
The comments at the Herald, enragingly but unsurprisingly, are full of people flailing around about how people on disability pensions are big bludging fakey fakers.
Another slam for taxpaying people with disabilities is the change in the tax offset for medical expenses. There will be a big jump in the offset threshold and indexing after that, expected to take away from PWD almost much again as the funding cuts for disability pensions.
Lastly, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Australia’s mostly very good pharmaceutical subsidy and safety net programme, will be “reformed” to the tune of $2 billion in government savings – but we’re not told how.
In other news, there are huge boosts in funding for elite sports and for ‘border security’. So crips will be paying for Olympians and for the harassment and prolonged detention of immigrants – while many can’t afford wheelchairs, homes, or medication.
This budget, just to make my disgust even more perfectly clear, is coming from a nominally LABOR government.
On twitter I summed the budget up thus:
@ilauredhel Aust’s priorities: $237 M boost for elite sport; $1.2 B boost for ‘border security’; $380M CUT for disability pensions #budget
I’m still gaping. At the budget itself, and at the nodding, satisfied happiness of most of the political media at there being supposedly “no big losers”.