Disability and poverty in Australia

A recent report on poverty in Australia by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), revealed that persons with disabilities are twice as likely to be in poverty than the national average. More than a quarter of persons with disabilities are below poverty lines which are set at half the national median income ($600 per week).

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Internationally compared to other developed nations, Australia ranked among the lowest in terms of employment for people with disabilities. With more than 4 million persons with disabilities, over 20% of Australia’s population has some form of disability which constitutes its largest minority.

According to another report compiled by Price Waterhouse and Coopers, a professional service firm, in comparison to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) member countries average of 22% under or near poverty lines, the percentage of the population with disabilities in Australia was 45%.

Despite boasting a competitive national economy in the global market, the report cited that in 2009 only 54% of persons with disabilities were employed, a low number compared to the national employment rate of 83%.   Thus many rely on social welfare programs for their incomes.

However, in 2006, with the introduction of new social welfare policies, people assessed as having “partial work capacities” received less support despite the lack of employment and opportunities for persons with disabilities. Further, recent revisions in its Disability Support Pension program have cut the number of successful claims to one out of two claims, forcing 67,000 to receive $150 less per week.

Although the Australian government recently introduced a new program on disability care which was recently passed in parliament, it is not set to be implemented until 2014-18. Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of ACOSS, says that help is needed immediately, “People on this payment have to make do on just $35 a day which clearly isn’t enough for anyone to live on, especially if you have added difficulties and costs associated with disability.”

In addition to immediate assistance, Goldie noted that the government needs to start putting quotas and targets for industries to ensure employment for workers with disabilities. In the public sector alone, in the past two decades employment has dropped to 2.9% from 5.8% in 1992.  She further noted that unless the government takes action poverty levels will increase, widening the gap between the rich and the poor.