Louise St Guillaume, University of Notre Dame Australia
The report, ‘Barriers to Disability Support Pension access for people with psychiatric impairments and their experiences on JobSeeker Payment’, argues that there are systemic barriers to Disability Support Pension (DSP) access for people with psychiatric impairments. Written by Dr Louise St Guillaume and Jasmine Robertson from The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), in collaboration with Economic Justice Australia (EJA) and the Welfare Rights Centre (WRC) New South Wales (NSW), the report presents research findings identifying numerous barriers to the DSP claims process for people with psychiatric impairments. The research also found that people with psychiatric impairments have difficulties meeting their JobSeeker Payment obligations. As such, it makes specific recommendations to address issues faced by people with psychiatric impairments on JobSeeker and/ or applying for the DSP.
The research was based on a thematic analysis of 17 de-identified case studies published online by EJA in their February 2021 Social Security Rights Review. A thematic analysis meant that the reoccurring themes, patterns and ideas emerging across the case studies were identified and explored as a way to identify common problems experienced by people with psychiatric impairments. The case studies, which were drawn from EJA member centres, including the WRC NSW, Basic Rights Queensland, and Illawarra Legal Centre, focused on:
- applicants with psychiatric impairments denied access to the DSP because their condition has not been ‘fully’ diagnosed, treated and stabilised;
- applicants with psychiatric impairments denied access to the DSP because of the Impairment Tables;
- instances where people with psychiatric impairments have breached their mutual obligations as job seekers on JobSeeker Payment; and
- successful and unsuccessful applications for a medical exemption by people with psychiatric impairments receiving JobSeeker Payment.
The research found that the DSP claims process presented numerous barriers for people with psychiatric impairments. Of particular concern are the evidence requirements that applicants must meet, which are complicated by the complex and layered DSP legislation – including the ‘fully’ diagnosed, treated and stabilised criteria, and the program of support requirement. It was also observed that unsuccessful appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal can impact on the success of future applications for the DSP. Furthermore, psychiatric impairment affected some people’s capacity to pursue their DSP claim. These experiences were found to be compounded by inadequate support mechanisms for people with psychiatric impairments during and throughout the DSP application process.
People with psychiatric impairments on JobSeeker Payment who are assessed as capable of working between 15-29 hours per week, are required to meet mutual obligations in order to remain eligible for JobSeeker. The research found that people with psychiatric impairments experience problems complying with these obligations. For some this was due to their impairments and resulted in payment suspension or cancellation – interruptions to payment exposing these people to entrenched poverty and risk of destitution. Additionally, some people with psychiatric impairments had their impairments exacerbated while attempting to meet their mutual obligations on JobSeeker. Some sought medical exemptions from their obligations for short periods of time; however, it was found that medical exemptions were only a temporary fix to ongoing problems with an inadequate payment, unrealistic mutual obligation expectations and a difficult DSP claims process. Furthermore, it was possible that obtaining a medical exemption for temporary incapacity could undermine a successful DSP application. Finally, as was the case for those with psychiatric impairments claiming DSP, there was a lack of support services available for people with psychiatric impairment struggling to meet mutual obligations for JobSeeker Payment.
The report makes recommendations in six key areas based on the research findings, to address the systemic injustices experienced by people with psychiatric impairments applying for the DSP and receiving JobSeeker Payment. These pertain to the evidence requirements for DSP applications; the qualification requirement that a psychiatric condition be ‘fully’ diagnosed, treated and stabilised; the program of support requirement; and the manifest grant guidelines. The report also recommends that support be provided to at-risk groups on activity-tested income support payments, and that a cost of disability allowance be introduced for people on JobSeeker Payment, or any other activity tested payment.