Kelly in the Media

Kelly Vincent – 5AA Interview on the Proposed Overhaul of the Disability Support Pension

Kelly Vincent, Dignity for Disability (5AA 13.19-13.28) Proposed overhaul of the Disability Support Pension / Issues around training and employment for people with disabilities

Godfrey: Reviewing of the Disability Support Pension, let’s take a look at another aspect of it. Kelly Vincent, joins us now and your first thoughts on this review that has been announced by the Coalition. Do you see some merit or do you have some concerns?

Kelly Vincent: A review of the DSP is certainly something that Dignity for Disability is happy to look at. I don’t think it’s any secret that living off a pension in this country is not the glamorous lifestyle. So we’re happy to look at making sure that those who genuinely need the pension do have it, and those who don’t necessarily are supported to get into work. That’s just the point; we can’t turf people off what is to most people on the pension their only source of income without first ensuring that there are jobs and support in place for those people

Godfrey: And would that be the biggest issue at the moment, that jobs may not be available?

Kelly Vincent: Look absolutely. People with disabilities currently face huge discrimination when looking for jobs. My office for example is regularly contacted by people who even have Masters degrees and PhDs who simply, through no fault of their own, can’t find work because the workforce both physically and in terms of the psychological infrastructures of people’s attitudes toward disability are not ready to fully support those people into work. The fact is we have a very low, not just low employment rate but a low workforce participation rate of people with disability. So we need the governments to actually actively take on this role and change perception as much as physical and sensory infrastructure to allow people to get the jobs that are already working hard to get

Godfrey: Do you think we have made progress in regard to breaking down stigmas towards people with disability in the workplace? Do you think employers are becoming more acceptable, or is there still challenges there?

Kelly Vincent: I think we’ve come a long way from the days that most people with disability were simply expected to sit in a corner in the Dark Ages. But I don’t think that excuses the fact that we have very low participation rates in the workplace, even lower employment rates, and the fact that many employers in fact once a person with disability gets an interview with them will sit there and ask questions like can you fit under a desk, and how do you go to the toilet? Rather than what are your skills and the attributes that you could bring to this company? So we’ve got a long way to go. And we see governments taking action with unemployment in similar groups such as indigenous and youth unemployment, and I’d be the last person to pit those groups against each other, I’m a complete egalitarian, but the fact is often we hear governments talking about wanting to return to surplus, wanting a strong budget, and there is a massive section of the workforce that they could support to help them do that that they’re currently not supporting.

Godfrey: You hear stories of the number of hoops that people have to jump through to qualify for a Disability Support Pension, is that how it appears in real life, is that correct? Are there are a lot of hoops people have to jump through and would you fear changes could make it more difficult?

Kelly Vincent: Oh absolutely. As I stated earlier, we certainly don’t want to make it more difficult for people necessarily, we want the people who genuinely need the pension to receive it, and those who don’t necessarily if they have the right support, to be supported to gain meaningful employment. I think and important point to make is that only around 8% of people on the Disability Support Pension currently have an alternative source of income and it’s my understanding that many of those would be people working in supported employment or sheltered workshops where they’re not exactly raking in the money. So again we do need proper safeguards to ensure that those who do need it genuinely get the pension. And those who don’t have the support because it’s not their only option

Godfrey: You mentioned we’re fairly low on the scale of workplace participation by people who have a disability, why are we so low on that scale?

Kelly Vincent: I think there are several reasons. One is the physical inaccessibility of many workplaces and it could be access for someone with mobility impairments; someone might need special software to screen reader if they’re visually impaired; someone might have other sensory issues that need to be dealt with. There’s a lot of ignorance I think in the workforce particularly in small businesses about the costs that will bring to businesses. People are often ignorant about the supports that do exist to help businesses get those supports for their employees if that’s what employee needs. And so if they’re fearful that all of those costs will fall straight to them, of course they’re going to go for the cheaper employer [sic], which is actually not always sensible because again statistics show that people with disabilities are more loyal employees, and also take less sick days. You have to wonder whether that’s because it takes us so much longer to get the job that once we do we stick to it

Godfrey: So how can those perceptions be changed? What would you see as the best way to increase that participation rate?

Kelly Vincent: This is certainly a question I put to the Minister as well, what supports will be in place to allow business owners and employers to have this knowledge of the existing supports and will those existing supports continue to exist under this new Government? And what other new ideas is he going to put forward? Because we can’t turf people off their only source of income. But there are some very simple things that we could do to raise awareness. In fact we’re already seeing them happen in the indigenous and youth unemployment sectors with campaigns like Close the Gap. I’m not saying those campaigns fix everything but I think when you do have these issues on your TV screen being discussed in the papers openly, just having those conversations can help to break down the barriers. It’s silence that continues to perpetuate the problem

Godfrey: Do you feel discussions of changes to the system, particularly when it’s brought up that possibly some people could be moved onto other forms of support if they’re able to work, does it increase the amount of anxiety amongst people broadly?

Kelly Vincent: Oh certainly.

Godfrey: What does that lead to? What sort of effects can that lead to?

Kelly Vincent: You can imagine if this pension is your only source of income of course any potential changes to it are going to cause anxiety, especially like at the moment when you don’t know precisely what those changes are, that causes huge anxiety. I think the other thing to mention is losing the pension or having the pension adjusted in some way if the person is not able to work because of the inaccessibility of the workforce, that won’t only necessarily affect the person it could affect their children, their families and friends that might be dependent on them financially. So it’s again very important that we don’t see this happen in a way that is going to affect people with disability who genuinely have no option other than the pension. The other point I’d make is that we certainly don’t want to head down the path of the UK where the eligibility for the disability living allowance there was changed to the point where for one example a man was assessed as fit to work two weeks before he passed away. So we do need to move to a system that as the Minister says recognises that people with disabilities are not a homogenous group but in saying that we need to move to a system that recognises people are not homogenous and supports their individual skills and abilities

Godfrey: Is that an easy thing to achieve though? When a government is dealing with vast numbers of people, to pigeonhole people does make things easier to deal with at a bureaucratic level, so could we end up with that situation where people are all treated homogenously?

Kelly Vincent: We could but it’s certainly something I think would be a great shame for any government and something I’m hopeful any government would steer away from because that would hopefully severely affect their results on polling day. Because it is the job of current or future or past governments to serve the people that they are elected to serve. The fact of life is those people are not homogenous. And sure it may be easier to pigeonhole people but if that were the case we would all be living off the exact same pension and all paying the exact same rent and so on, but life is just not like that. So we need governments that are actually able to support the individual abilities of people that they deal with for their own benefit. Time and time we hear about governments wanting to return to surplus and a strong budget and here is this enormous section of society, people with disabilities and family carers, who may have surrendered work to care for a person with disability, who are able to return to work with the right support to help the government achieve that goal. Why not take advantage of that?

Godfrey: Kelly Vincent, thank you for your time this afternoon.