Issue 53, Special Edition, Australian Government Budget 2009/2010May 2009 - ISSN 2202-0705
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Australian Government Budget 2009/2010
On 12 May 2009, the Treasurer Wayne Swan handed down the Australian Government’s proposed Budget for the 2009/2010 Financial Year. It highlighted the Australian Government commitments over the next financial year and into the future. As with any Government legislation the Budget is subject to change through negotiation with other parties. The following commentary is based on the measures announced by the Government on 12 May 2009.
Documentation about these announcements is available from Australian Government websites. The central website is www.budget.gov.au and the site contains all of this year's Budget papers. Departments have created specific pages on their websites that contain the Budget papers specific to that department. We have provided links to those websites in the individual sections below.
This E-Bulletin talks about:Return to top
Social Security Payments
Documentation about announcements in this section is available from the websites of the following government departments:
Pension Payment Increases
All Pension payments, including the Disability Support Pension, but with the exception of Parenting Payment (Single), will increase as follows:
PWD welcomes the increase to payment rates for pensions. We are particularly pleased that the Disability Support Pension will increase in line with other pensions as we have advocated on this issue for many months.
However, we are concerned that the increase does not apply to the Parenting Payment (Single). People with disability receiving social security payments are six times more likely to experience poverty than people who do not have disability. The 20% - 25% of people with disability, mainly women receiving Parenting Payment (Single) will continue to experience hardship.
A week before the budget was handed down, PWD joined with a number of other pensioner and welfare advocacy organisations to voice our opposition to such a decision and to urge the Australian Government to provide the same increase to sole parent pensioners. The joint press release is available on the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) website.
PWD will continue to argue for comprehensive social security reform that is equitable and meets the needs of people with disability, including the additional non-discretionary cost of disability.
Carer Payment and Carer Allowance
The Carer Payment has been increased to the same rate as the Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension. The Carer Allowance remains unchanged.
A new Carer Supplement of $600 per year was announced for people receiving payments for carer responsibilities. If a person receives both Carer Payment and Carer Allowance they will receive Carer Supplements for each benefit received.
While PWD recognises the important role carers can play in the lives of people with disability, PWD is concerned that there is not an equivalent supplement paid to people with disability. Many people with disability do not have or need a carer but still need to pay for additional costs associated with disability such as accessible transport, aids, equipment and medications.
The Child Disability Assistance Payment of $1,000 a year for carers who receive Carer Allowance Child) will continue.
Newstart and Youth Allowance
The payment rate for Newstart and Youth Allowance remains unchanged.
There are many people with disability on these payments, particularly since the previous Government’s changes to eligibility criteria meant many people with disability who had been on the Disability Support Pension were required to move onto Newstart Allowance.
PWD is very concerned that Newstart Allowance will be almost $90 per week less than that available to pensioners, including disability support pensioners.
The increase in Age Pension eligibility age from 65 to 67 also means that older people will face hardship and poverty for longer periods as they will be forced to linger on inadequate levels of support on Newstart Allowance or they will seek a higher income by moving to claim the Disability Support Pension.
PWD will continue to argue for comprehensive social security reform that is equitable and meets the needs of people with disability, including the additional non-discretionary cost of disability.
Pension Supplement and greater flexibility
Currently pensioners receive a utilities allowance, telephone allowance, Pension GST supplement and a pharmaceutical allowance. From September 2009 these will be merged into one payment to create a new 'Pension Supplement'.
From July 2010, people will be able to choose to get the Pension Supplement fortnightly or quarterly. This will enable people to have greater flexibility and choice when creating personal budgets and allowing for bill payments.
Pension Advance Payments
As of 1 July 2010 the maximum advance payment that pensioners are able to access will increase from $500 to almost $1000 for singles and $1500 for couples combined. There will be access to more than one advance payment in any 12 month period.
PWD supports this measure as it will enable pensioners a greater degree of flexibility in planning for additional expenses as well as greater assistance during times of financial hardship.
From 20 September 2009 payments to pensioners will be reduced by 50 cents for each extra dollar of private income above the income test ‘free area’.
Pensioners with private income above the ‘free area’ currently have their pension payments reduced by 40 cents for each extra dollar of private income.
PWD is concerned that this measure may further discourage people with disability from seeking or maintaining employment. We will be monitoring the impact of these changes to assess adverse impacts on employment participation of people with disability.
Pension Indexation and Benchmarking
A new Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI) will be developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics specifically designed to reflect changes in the cost of living experienced by pensioner and beneficiary households.
The rationale given by the Government is that pensioner households can face cost of living changes which are different to those measured by the general Consumer Price Index (CPI).
From 20 September 2009, this new index, in addition to the CPI, will be used to adjust base pension rates. The base pension rate will be adjusted by whichever is the greater of CPI or the new PBLCI. The PBLCI will be updated every six months.
The Pension Supplement will be indexed twice a year by movements in the Consumer Price Index. This will occur in March and September, the same time as the indexation of the base pension.
Pension rates will continue to be benchmarked to the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE). Currently the pension for singles is benchmarked to 25 per cent of MTAWE. With the increases announced in this Budget the new benchmark will be 27.7 per cent of MTAWE.
PWD welcomes these measures as they are likely to better reflect the needs of pensioners and minimise the levels of poverty currently experienced by people receiving pensions. PWD would like the PBLCI and benchmarks to apply to allowances as well as pensions. PWD will monitor and assess the PBLCI to ensure it meets the needs of people with disability receiving pensions.
Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme household assistance
The Budget foreshadowed that as of July 2011, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) household assistance payments will be added to the Pension Supplement. The amount was not outlined in the Budget papers.
The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper, which is available at www.climatechange.gov.au, says “pensioners, seniors, carers and people with disability will receive a 2.5 per cent pension increase (including upfront indexation) an increase of around $382 for singles and $320 for each member of a couple, based on current arrangements”. The detail in the White Paper was released before the 2009/10 Budget.
Indexation will also increase rates of payment a number of times before July 2011 and therefore the dollar figures will increase. The detail is therefore likely to be announced after the March 2011 indexation of pension rates.
PWD welcomes the assistance payments to minimise the additional burden that recipients of social security payments, along with other low income people, are likely to face when the CPRS is introduced. PWD believes that the assistance payments need to be supported by carbon reduction education programs targeted to pensioners, including people with disability.
Disability Support Pension Assessment Criteria
From 1 July 2010, new assessment procedures for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) will be introduced. The existing eligibility criteria for the DSP remain unchanged.
The new assessment procedures will fast-track people who are clearly eligible to receive DSP so that they will receive financial support more quickly. Those who are in this category include people who have a “catastrophic, congenital disability or cancer”.
In cases which are not clear cut, people will now have their eligibility for DSP assessed by Senior Job Capacity Assessors. To assist Senior Job Capacity Assessors, the Government will:
PWD supports the streamlining of assessment procedures that enable people with disability to receive financial support more quickly and effectively. We have previously argued for changes to be made to the Job Capacity Assessment, however there are no details provided in relation to this budget announcement to determine if the changes will benefit people with disability. We will be carefully monitoring these changes and actively participating in consultation processes about these changes.
The Australian Government is also committed to revising the Impairment Tables used for DSP assessments. The Impairment Tables were last reviewed in 1993 and no longer reflect current medical and rehabilitation practice. PWD has argued for a review of the Impairment Tables for some time, and will be participate in the consultation processes that will lead to the introduction of the new Impairment Tables by 1 January 2012.
The Australian Government expects that the changes to the assessment procedures will enable about 1,500 additional people to be eligible for the DSP, with about 6,500 people no longer being eligible who previously would have been. While PWD supports programs that will assist people with disability to move from the DSP into meaningful employment, we are concerned that many of the people who will no longer be eligible for the DSP will be forced onto Newstart Allowance, a payment that will be $90 less per week than the DSP.
The Australian Government is expecting its National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy to complement these changes to DSP assessment procedures. However, there has been very little detail provided in relation to this Strategy, and difficult for PWD to assess its potential value in enabling more people with disability, including those on DSP to find and maintain employment. PWD will continue to assess this situation.
More information on employment is provided below.
Disability Services and Programs
Documentation about the announcements in this section is available from the Budget webpage of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).
More Outside School Hours Care
The Australian Government will provide $9.3 million over four years for an additional 250 Outside School Hours Care places for teenagers with disability or serious medical conditions. This builds on a successful program that is delivering targeted developmental, social and recreational activities for young people with disability.
PWD welcomes the increase to this program. It will increase the capacity of the program to 1250 places.
National disability parking permit scheme
The Government has announced the introduction of a new national disability parking permit scheme. The scheme will establish nationally consistent eligibility criteria, entitlements and a national permit to replace more than 100 different parking permits across Australia. Around 800,000 people with disability will receive a new, standardised parking permit that will be recognised nationally.
PWD welcomes this measure as it will address the many inconsistencies and inequities that exist between State and Territory based schemes. PWD will monitor the progress of this scheme to ensure that the best features of State and Territory based schemes are included in the national scheme.
National companion card scheme
The Australian Government will provide $1.8 million for a national companion card scheme for people with disability and their carers. This will expand the arrangements offered in some States and Territories (for more information on State and Territory schemes, see PWD E-Bulletin, Issue 52, April 2009). This will allow the carer of eligible people with disability to gain free entry to events at participating venues, eliminating the need to pay for two entries.
The national scheme will also ensure that people with disability receive the same entitlements when travelling across state and territory borders.
PWD welcomes this initiative. We are pleased that this measure is the result of the Australian State and Territory Governments working together to introduce a whole of government response to meeting the needs of people with disability.
PWD will continue to assess the flexibility of this scheme. Some PWD members have expressed concern that if a person with disability does not have a carer or a permanent carer then this limits their ability to use the scheme.
Special Disability Trusts
The Budget papers noted that the Special Disability Trusts (SDT) scheme will be a priority area of work for FaHCSIA. It outlined that the Government will respond to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report Building Trust: Supporting families through Disability Trusts by removing the barriers which prevent families from making financial contributions to the care and accommodation needs of family members with disability.
Special Disability Trusts were introduced in 2006 to allow private financial provision for the current or future accommodation and care of a family member with a severe disability, without being affected by social security rules on means testing or gifting. However take up has been slow. As at 31 March 2009 there were only 52 trusts operating with 326 eligible beneficiaries. This falls well short of the expected 5000 trusts that were estimated when the scheme was introduced.
To encourage greater take up, from 1 July 2009 the Government will extend the capital gains tax main residence exemption to include a residence that is owned by a Special Disability Trust and used by the relevant beneficiary as their main residence. In addition any unexpended income of a Special Disability Trust will now be taxed at the beneficiary’s personal income tax rates, rather than the highest marginal tax rate, starting from the 2008-09 financial year.
The Australian Government is reviewing all recommendations from the Senate Committee, including broadening eligibility to make it easier for people to establish Special Disability Trusts.Return to top
Documentation about the announcements in this section is available from the Budget webpage of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Disability Employment Pilot
A pilot program designed to assist more Disability Support Pensioners to move into employment will commence in March 2010. The pilot is part of the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy.
The pilot program will encourage employers to create more employment opportunities for people with disability, and give people on the DSP an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Employers will be supported through wage subsidies of up to $3000 after the job seeker has remained in work for 26 weeks and has been working for a minimum of 8 hours per week. Normal income taper rates will apply to DSP recipients who participate in the pilot.
The commencement of the pilot is in line with the commencement of the reformed Disability Employment Services which will identify, recruit and prepare 1000 DSP recipients to find work. The reforms will see existing caps on services being removed and all job seekers with disability will have access to individually tailored employment services better suited to their needs, with stronger links to training and skills development.
PWD welcomes the pilot program as an important measure in increasing employment opportunities for people with disability. We also welcome the uncapping of employment assistance services and the move to individually tailored employment support. The success of these measures will largely depend on the strength of additional strategies and programs aimed at addressing the discrimination and structural barriers that limit or prevent many people with disability from being able to take up employment opportunities.
Employment Assistance Fund
Employers will receive greater support through a new Employment Assistance Fund which will provider broader access to workplace modifications and Auslan interpreting services. The new services include an intermittent post-placement support option which will better support employees with episodic disability, including mental illness, in the workplace.
PWD welcomes this announcement as it aims to address barriers to gaining and maintaining employment for people with disability, particularly for people with episodic illnesses. PWD will monitor the success of the scheme into the future.Return to top
Documentation about the announcements in this section is available from the Budget webpage of the Department of Health and Ageing.
Continence Aids Payment Scheme
The Government will replace the Continence Aids Assistance Scheme with a Continence Aids Payment Scheme. The Government argues that the Continence Aids Payment Scheme will allow consumers to choose among products and suppliers. The Government sees this as an improvement on the current system which relies on a sole provider.
The new payment starting from 1 July 2010 will be equivalent to the current subsidy of $479.40. It will be indexed annually and eligibility will not change. The Budget papers show this measure saving $10.7 million over four years.
PWD is concerned that many of the inadequacies of the old scheme are being maintained in the new scheme. PWD would have liked the savings created through these changes to be reinvested into the new scheme to create significant improvements.
Assistive Technology in Community Care
The Government announced that the Assistive Technology in Community Care program will cease.
This program was introduced in 2007 to encourage the use of assistive technology among community aged care providers. It can include home safety devices, medication dispensers and communication technology to reduce isolation. This measure could increase pressure on disability equipment schemes.
PWD is concerned that the end of this program will result in a loss of independence and community living for people with disability and a higher and earlier uptake of moving to institutional care arrangements. We will be assessing the detail of this announcement when it is available.Return to top
Documentation about the announcements in this section is available from the Budget webpage of AusAID.
The Budget papers restate the Government’s commitment to focusing on human rights. The papers also state that people with disability will be one of the groups most vulnerable to the effect of the global recession.
The Budget outlines the sections of Development for All: Towards a disability-inclusive Australian aid program 2009-2011 which the Australian Government will implement through its Official Development Assistance (ODA). Aid spending has been prioritised to assist in the provision of education, health and creating food security. Development for All focuses on minimising preventable disability, in particular preventable blindness. Programs from the Development for All priorities will be delivered in Laos, Samoa and Bangladesh.
While PWD welcomed Development for All as a key policy focus for people with disability, PWD is concerned that this budget does not provide any new money to implement the strategies contained in it. In addition, we are concerned that the focus of aid money for people with disability is on the prevention of impairments rather than on programs and strategies to address poverty experienced by people with disability.
PWD will continue its advocacy in relation to the Australia Government’s aid program to ensure the strategies aimed at capacity building of Disabled People’s Organisations are implemented and appropriately funded.Return to top
People with Disability Australia Incorporated (PWD) is a national disability rights and advocacy organisation. Its primary membership is people with disability and organisations primarily made up of people with disability. PWD also has a large associate membership of other individuals and organisations committed to the disability rights movement. PWD was founded in 1981, the International Year of Disabled People, to provide people with disability with a voice of our own. We have a cross-disability focus; we represent the interests of people with all kinds of disability. PWD is a non-profit, non-government organisation.
For information about membership of PWD, contact the Membership Services Officer by email or on one of numbers below.Return to top
PWD's training services
PWD has extensive experience in the development and delivery of professional training across a wide range of disability areas, including:
Training packages developed are flexible and tailor-made to meet the needs of the particular organisation. To find out more about PWD's training services or to discuss your specific training needs, contact the Senior Education Officer Fiona Godfrey or Ph 02 9370 3100.Return to top
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