Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has slammed suggestions the disability support pension is being rorted. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has hit back at the idea that there are too many people on the disability support pension, slamming claims that the system is being rorted as "completely unhelpful".
In the wake of fresh reports that Australia's spending on the disability support pension is unsustainable, Mr Innes said that there was no crisis with the payment.
"The numbers aren't increasing and won't increase for 30 years," he told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.
He said that while there had been an increase in people with a mental illness coming on to the DSP, as a percentage of the working age population, the number had actually fallen slightly from 5.5 per cent of the population in 2011 to 5.4 per cent in 2012.
The Coalition recently announced a review into Australia's welfare payments, noting concerns about the number of people on the disability support pension versus the Newstart payment (which has a difference of about $250 per fortnight for single people).
Currently, more than 800,000 people receive the disability support pension at a cost of about $15 billion a year.
On Tuesday, a Deloitte Access Economics analysis conducted for News Corp found that the Federal Government could save about $80 billion over 20 years if it limited the rate at which the disability pension payments grows.
The DSP increases with wages growth, while Newstart is pegged to (the lower rate) of inflation.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews on Tuesday acknowledged that it had been ''evident for many years'' that there was a growing gap between the two payments.
''In the longer term, the government has to take into account the fact that there is now a perverse incentive for people to get on to the disability pension rather than on the Newstart allowance, because it pays more'' he told ABC TV.
Mr Innes said that the DSP was pegged at a higher growth rate for a "very good reason", given the high cost of living with a disability. He also said that going on to the DSP was not an easy process, and noted that in 2011 Labor tightened the criteria to qualify for the payment.
The Disability Discrimination Commissioner added that rhetoric around people rorting the DSP was "completely unhelpful".
"I'm in the disability [sector] 24/7. I don't know of anyone rorting the DSP," he said.
"Why would you want to be on DSP? Why would you want live on less than $20,000 a year?"
Mr Innes said that instead of reinforcing "negative perceptions" about people with disability, the debate should focus on job opportunities for those on the DSP.
"What we have is an employment problem, not a rorting problem," he said.
He described the federal public service as "shameful", given the employment of people with disabilities has plummeted to about 2 per cent.
Welfare report 'soon'
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said that the welfare review – headed up by Patrick McClure – would examine the issue and report back to government ''soon''.
Disability advocates have previously criticised the review process, pointing out that there has been no public call for submissions and there are no clear terms of reference.
The Social Services Minister said that the Coalition was not looking to reduce disability support payments to those who were currently on the pension.
''This is about the medium to long-term sustainability of welfare in Australia,'' he said.
He later added that a change to pension indexation was ''not something which I expect we would be immediately addressing in the [upcoming] budget''.
''I think this is the sort of measure that we will look at carefully.''
Mr Andrews added that the government also had to take into account the findings of the Commission of Audit, which reported to the government last month and is due to report again at the end of the month.
So far, the commission's work has not been made public.
Mr Andrews said he had not yet seen the interim report.
''I haven't yet seen the Commission of Audit report, so I'm waiting along with most other Australians to see what that report contains.''