Jobs plan push on disability

The federal government is looking to reconstruct Australia's welfare system. Reporter COREY MARTIN looks at suggested changes to the disability support pension and the Work for the Dole program, which started on July 1.

DISABILITY activists are pushing for a national jobs plan for people living with disabilities as the federal government looks to overhaul the country's welfare payments system, including the disability support pension.

Tasmanian disability advocate Jane Wardlaw and Speak Out operations manager Jennifer Dixon have both echoed now- redundant disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes's call for a plan that "moves the people with disabilities off welfare and into work".

"The problem is that there are a lot of people out there living with disability who want to work but the barriers to getting work are so great, that it is not a matter of shifting from one welfare payment to another welfare payment," Ms Wardlaw said.

"It is a matter of us actually building the capacity of our employers to actually start employing people living with disability.

"Living on the disability support pension, you're living on the verge of poverty.

"Barriers between employment are attitudes of employers, not enough support to get to work, transport and obtaining education."

Ms Wardlaw said people living with disabilities were productive workers, wanted to work, and deserved to be given a chance.

Earlier this year, the Abbott government commissioned former Mission Australia boss Patrick McClure to review the welfare system and in a 171-page discussion paper handed down last Sunday, there were several suggested changes to the eligibility for the disability support pension.

One change posed is that only people with a permanent disability and no capacity to work receive the pension.

No recommendations have been made and six public consultations meetings will be held before Mr McClure reports back to the government in October.

The Health and Human Services website also states that from July 1, disability support pension recipients under 35 years, with an assessed work capacity of eight or more hours a week, will be required to participate in activities such as education, training and Work for the Dole.

In 2011, 27,600 Tasmanians received the disability support pension out of 830,000 recipients Australia-wide.

Ms Dixon said people had to undergo a Centrelink assessment process to obtain a disability pension.

She said the Disability Employment Service approach was not effective and that the outcome rate for people getting a job was only 25 per cent, while Mr Innes said the government's record employing the disabled in the public sector had fallen from 5.8 per cent to 2.9 per cent in about 15 years.

"Most people with an intellectual disability are unlikely to be affected by the proposed changes as they are assessed on a job classification assessment as being able to work under eight hours a week," she said.

"We will be working closely with Speak Out members about the report in the next few weeks to give a considered response.

"The six weeks for consultation is very short to enable people to come to grips with these complex issues and participate meaningfully in the review.

"There are positive reform directions flagged in the interim report but detail is limited ... somehow it will be decided if someone has a permanent or temporary disability. How will this be assessed? Who will assess this? There is no detail in the interim report."

Ms Dixon said the suggested amendments would make it more difficult for people receive a pension as work is not available and that people with fluctuating disability would struggle to keep employment.

Payment rates and supplements are not detailed in the report.•

City Mission Prospect store manager Paul Ruston got a job after participating in the Work for the Dole Program. Picture: Phillip Biggs

City Mission Prospect store manager Paul Ruston got a job after participating in the Work for the Dole Program. Picture: Phillip Biggs

Store manager recounts fight to find work

PAUL Ruston moved to Launceston three years ago for medical reasons and found it difficult to find a job.

He got a job at Subway but was laid off when the store he was working at was sold and then spent the next 18 months unemployed, despite sending out hundreds of resumes.

"After about six months, I decided to do voluntary work at City Mission and that was probably done for six or seven months, before it was a requirement for me to go on to Work for the Dole where I stayed with City Mission," Mr Ruston, 51, said.

"I was required to do 21 hours a week and I had to look for a certain number of jobs a week."

Now, he is the store manager at the City Mission Prospect store, after the organisation offered him the paid role.

He is responsible for the store and its staff - a role he enjoyed.

Mr Ruston supports the Work for the Dole concept, saying it keeps people work ready and motivated.

"There aren't too many negatives," he said.

"Being a mature-aged person, it is pretty hard to get a job interview let alone a job, so I recommend it for the young and old.

"It is very disheartening as you send out dozens and dozens of resumes and I don't know the ratio for the response but it isn't very high, and when you do get an interview, you are one of 400 people who are after the job.

"It's pretty tough at the moment."

The former console operator said his age was a barrier when applying for jobs, and that living on a Newstart allowance was tough-going.

Aside from Work for the Dole a number of other changes to the federal welfare system started on Tuesday.

Businesses that employ Australians aged over 50 years old, who have been on income support for the past six months, can access up to $10,000, young Australians can access the $6500 Job Commitment Bonus and workers can get $6000 for moving to regional areas to work or $3000 if moving from the country to the city.

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