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Government leaves people with disability fearful.

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Government Leaves People With Disability Fearful Chris Evans - Acting Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services

Media Statement - 15 December 2000

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Labor offices have been inundated with calls from people with disability in the last 24 hours all deeply concerned about what the Government's welfare reform agenda will mean for them.

"The Government has created great distress for people with disability by failing to guarantee that they will not be ruled ineligible for the Disability Support Pension" said Senator Chris Evans, Acting Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services.

"To leave a vulnerable group in our community feeling scared and uncertain about the future is insensitive, unnecessary and unfair."

"The Minister has left the door open to shift people with disability from DSP to Newstart through a 'more robust and independent' assessment process in which government contracted medical experts will assess eligibility.

"Persons ruled ineligible for DSP under the tighter guidelines will face reduced benefits, tougher activity tests, and harsh penalties if they are unable to meet their mutual obligation requirements.

"The explosion in penalties applied to jobseekers - an increase of 250 per cent in the last three years - has already caused serious problems for people with intellectual disability. People who cannot understand Centrelink letters or who miss appointments because of the episodic nature of mental illness are being caught in the Government's breaching web.

"The Government needs to provide additional support to people with disability not additional sanctions.

"The Minister's statement yesterday failed to acknowledge that the majority of people with disability desperately want to work. They want real jobs but employment opportunities are thin on the ground.

"As the McClure report pointed out, business has provided few participation opportunities for people with disability. But before the Government shifts responsibility to business they should clean up their own act.

"Under the Howard Government more than 2000 people with disability have lost positions in the Commonwealth Public Service.

"Two Centrelink employees in Western Australian have just been made redundant because

their disability makes them unsuitable to perform tasks associated with customer service and multi-skilling. Despite combined service of 21 years they were not offered either redeployment or retraining."

"People with disability have a right to be sceptical about the Government's unfunded commitment to additional employment services. It is scepticism based on evidence. They also have a right to know what the future holds.

"Labor calls on the Prime Minister to assure people with disability that the Government's welfare reform agenda will leave no-one worse off. Failure to act now will leave people with disability facing a fearful and uncertain Christmas."

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.