The truth about Disability in Australia

The truth about Disability in Australia

Vince O’Grady discusses the disability crisis that Social Security Minister Kevin Andrews has raised and tells the truth about what is and is not sustainable, and what is the truth about Disability and Disability Support.


Before I begin to write this piece I must disclose an abiding interest in it. I have a profound disability.

My disability is Arthritis. This is my 33rd year of having the infirmity. My condition is known as Ankylosing Spondylitis. I also have complications caused by Psoriasis and also Psoriatic Arthritis.

So I have a bad back and neck (extra growth of bone in the spine and associated pain) and the Psoriatic arthritis affects my knees, hands, feet, ankles, shoulders and pretty much the rest of me.

I can also attest to the fact that it is very painful. However, one does learn to live with pain.

Medications I have been on for a long time are: Methotrexate for a prolonged period of over 15 years and a range of other medications described in the hyperlinked literature above as well as a lot of pain killers.

Since 2006 I have been on a class of drugs which are called TNF medications. What they do is to mimic the receptor cells of the Arthritic immune (attacking) cells, and hence attenuate the pain of the arthritis when they attach to the drug rather than the cells in various parts of the body. They don’t cure it but they make it descend to a dull ache. There are flare ups even on this medication. I have been on two types: the first was called Remicade, which my body rejected after about two years of using it and the second is Humira.  They suppress the immune system.

Remicade was delivered by infusion every six weeks and Humira is taken every two weeks by means of a pen injection. Both are very expensive so I want to thank the Labor Government for introducing Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Gillard government for introducing a trial of a Disability Insurance Scheme.

So that is my disclosure. The disease presented itself when I was 27 years. This year I attain my 60th year. So I have had the condition for over half of my life.

Along with the drugs are the side effects. The first one listed next to Methotrexate is Sudden Death. Many of these drugs affect the liver function and many of the pain killers made me dizzy whilst they were little use at pain killing.

The reason for the disclosure is to show the reader that I know what I am talking about, when it comes to matters disability. Last year I was in receipt of a part Disability Support pension. The last full time job I was able to do in 1999 attracted a salary of $73,000 a rate of $200 per day before tax. Again I disclose this just so that the reader will know that I am capable of earning a living when able to do so. I have always considered that it is better to work than to be on such a small amount per day and under the clutches of Centrelink.

Disability and Australia: The Facts

Each year the Commonwealth Government (at least since 2001) have produced a report on Disability Support Pensioners titled Characteristics of Disability Support Pension Customers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics produced two special reports on Disability in 2003 and 2009. (4446.0 – Disability, Australia, 2009). This report was released on 2 May 2011. So it’s just over 2 years old. Here is the Media release. (Highlights in Italics by the Author)


Media Release


One in five Australians with a disability

Just under one in five (18.5%) Australians had a disability in 2009, according to new figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This represents approximately 4.0 million people.

The main disabling conditions reported in 2009 were back problems (15.6% of all persons with a disability) and arthritis (14.8%).

Between 2003 and 2009 the proportion of people with a disability decreased by 1.5 percentage points, mainly due to decreases in the prevalence of arthritis, back pain and asthma. However, the number of people with a disability has increased along with population growth.

During the same period, there has been almost no change in the proportion of the population with the most severe types of disabilities — those people who always need help or supervision with their mobility, communication and/or self-care. This group has remained relatively steady at approximately 2.9% of Australia’s population (634,600 people in 2009).

While there have been significant improvements to support those with a disability in many parts of their lives, little improvement has been made in key areas of everyday life over the last six years:

  • labour force participation remained low at around 54%, compared to 83% for people without disabilities; and
  • Year 12 attainment was around 25% for people with disabilities, compared to just over 50% for people without disabilities.

Both of these factors may have impacts on the social and economic well-being of people with a disability.

Just over half (52%) of people aged 60 years and over had a disability. Most of these (63%) did not need any assistance to manage health conditions or cope with everyday activities. For those who did, the most commonly reported needs were help with property maintenance, household chores and mobility.

There were 2.6 million carers in Australia who provided some assistance to others who needed help because of disability or old age. Around 55% of all carers were women.


In the year 2009 the population of Australia was 21,955,000, so 4,061,675 people had a disability of some shape or form.

The “Characteristics” report showed that for 2009 there were 757,118 people on the Disability Support Pension. That is 18.7% of the disabled (4,061,675), or just under one fifth were on a Disability Support Pension, or 3.45% of the total population in that year.

In fact, Disability Support Pensioners as a proportion of the total population has changed little since 2001(3.21%), 2002 (3.35%), 2003 (3.38%), 2004 (3.46%), 2005 (3.47%), 2006 (3.44%), 2007 (3.39%), 2008 (3.41%), 2009 (3.45%), and 2010 (3.55%).

In 2009, 54.8% of Disability Pensioners were under the age of 55 years and 41.6% were over the age of 55.

This shows that a larger proportion of people are in the 10 year range from 55 to 65 (when they reach aged pension age) than are in the age ranges from 16 to 55 or 39 year range.

In 2009 these percentages were (fig 3, page 11 of the 2009 report) 16-24 (6.3%), 25-34 (9.7%), 35-44 (16.2%), 45-54 (26.2%).  As proportions of the total they had hardly changed since 2001.

What these figures show is that Disability and Pension recipients are more prevalent the older the people with disability become.

In my case I contracted Arthritis when I was 27 years of age in 1981, and the condition gradually got worse in the next 10 years until 1992, when I was unable to work full time and was granted the DSP. However I was able to work some of the time and did so (as a part time TAFE teacher). The last time I was able to work was in 1999, when my arthritis had progressed further still. This highlights the nature of disability and its progression over time.

As well as age the “Characteristics”, reports give the type of disease which are prevalent.

In 2009 the major type of disability was

Page 6 of the 2009 report:-

DSP by primary medical condition


The major medical conditions of the DSP population are primarily represented by three main categories:

Musculo-skeletal and connective tissue – 30.0 percent;

Psychological/psychiatric – 28.2 percent; and

Intellectual/learning – 11.4 percent

So 69.6% of all recipients of the Disability Pension fall into these three categories.

The last two facts from the 2009 report are:

A/ The number of claims processed and number rejected.

Claims processed:

There were 134,654 DSP claims processed between 27 June 2008 and 26 June 2009, with 86,830 grants (64.5 percent) and 47,824 rejections (35.5 percent). The overall grant rate1 rose from 63.0 percent in 2006-07 to 64.5 percent in 2008-09.

It’s not easy to get on this pension. The test is strict.

B/ The exits from the DS Pension and reason for exiting:

Exits from DSP


At June 2009, there were 56,158 ‘exits’ from DSP (ie people who were receiving DSP in June 2008 but were no longer receiving DSP as at June 2009). Of these exits, transfers to Age Pension accounted for 60.6 percent and movement off income support payments (including deceased recipients) accounted for 35.6 percent.

They used to report the number of deceased people who exited the Pension scheme, but no longer do.

So where is the unsustainablilty in this?

Let’s look at the amount of money and where it goes. I have confirmed that the rate of pension paid to just over 800,000 people on the DSP is $15 billion, made up of about $4 billion paid to married couples, (who represent 33% of recipients) and about $11 billion to other single people who receive the pension. The difference is made up by the different rate paid to a married person, ($566.20 per person per fortnight) than to a single person ($751.70 per person per fortnight). This calculation does not include bonuses. Don’t forget that the Government receives about $1 billion back in taxes such as the GST.

Australia spends about 16% of its GDP on Social Services, Aged Pension, and other Centrelink benefits like Newstart. The rest of the OECD is made up at about 19% of their GDP’s.

This article (by Peter Whiteford) also points out that the amount spent on welfare is determined by the amount of Tax collected. The article also shows that that there is a growing inequality between the rich and the poor.

With this as the background, and a new and shiningly conservative free market Government, we see the reduction of subsidy to the Automotive Industry, when we were the lowest contributor per capita of all the large car making countries, with a consequent loss of up to 30,000 jobs. The attempt to repeal the Carbon Price (a measure introduced to put a price on the rise in greenhouse gases), the approval of two new huge Coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, the approval of two new Rail lines from them to the coast and the expansion of the port at Abbot Point which involves a serious harm (by dumping dredged material) to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the repeal of the Super Profits Mining Tax.

From the concocted and theatrical rage by Joseph Benedict Hockey about a budget emergency we see a whole lot of non actions on a whole lot of issues that Labor were supposed to be so incompetent about.

One of the worst of them is that people get sick and have diseases where they cannot work. “The best form of Welfare is having a job” says Andrews. No Shit Sherlock.

But the problem with that is there are not enough jobs to go around. The unemployment rate last month showed decrease in jobs of 22,600 in the workforce from November 2013. This was made up of a decrease of 31,000 full time jobs and an addition of 9,000 part time jobs. At the same time the amount of hours worked went up. See ABS 6202 Labour Force Australia Dec 2013 .

This is in stark contrast with Abbott’s promise of 1 million new Jobs in 5 years.

I wrote an article about this recently. It can be seen here. A million jobs in 5 years is 200,000 a year or 548 new jobs per day. Yet last December, we lost 753 jobs a day during that month.

Every day we hear about a new set of Job losses: Qantas sending their heavy maintenance overseas, a brewery closing in Regional NSW, Holden closing down, and so the list goes on.

So these Geniuses who are in Government want to get jobs for disabled people (who can’t work because of their disability) in a country which is shedding employment at a rate of knots. The December 2013 job losses equate to job losses over 5 years (if they keep up the rate) of 1 million, 374 thousand eight hundred and thirty three.

They don’t want to invest tax payers money in any enterprises which actually produce economic activity (like Holden), their friends in the business community don’t want to pay decent wages, but send jobs offshore to third world countries where they employ the worst paid and useless call centre staff they can. Also where they get products manufactured at minimal wage cost but that doesn’t seem to reduce the price.

All of this coupled with selling off the farm. A farm I might add which is owned by the people of Australia, not the Liberal and National Party’s.

Abbott said “You can’t spend what you haven’t got.”

“No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity.”

“You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit.”

Funny that because the Fiscal Stimulus of Feb 2009 and the programs associated with it created 534,500 new jobs in 2010, kept Australia out of recession and kept business and people working.

If you take his remarks to their conclusion, no one would ever buy a house on a mortgage because when you had paid the debt off you would never have the benefit of that asset. You would never go into debt because you may well fail.

I seem to remember when I completed my Business degree that it was always best to use someone else’s money in a business enterprise. It is funny also, that so many businesses have overdrafts.

And this man is Prime Minister of our country!

He also believes that people with a disability should be made to suffer further by making them the victims of the Social Security system.

Perhaps he should look at the final solution practiced by a certain central European power in the 1930’s. They rounded up all the people they didn’t like, put them in camps, starved and worked them to death.

What sort of thinking makes a particular party, and that is the Conservative Liberal Party, think that they are more entitled to anything in this life than anyone else?

Having posed the Question I will answer it. There are people who do not deserve to call themselves Christians because their goody two shoes attitudes to life bear absolutely no resemblance to any of the Christian values I was every taught. Their blame of the vulnerable and weak show that they are just like the school yard bully boys they are.

They make me ashamed to be a human being.

I truly hope that their chooks turn into emus and kick their dunnies down, and give them a huge whack in their bloated heads at the same time.

Don Chip was right – the party he left was a pack of Bastards and know what? Nothing has changed.

Leave the Disability Pensioners alone Abbott and Andrews. Alone to suffer their infirmities, without the added degradation you want to inflict on them.

Talk about baddies Abbott, you are a shocker.


By Vince O'Grady

Vince emigrated to Australia in 1978 from the United Kingdom, where he was a Police Constable in Brierley Hill, on the outskirts of Birmingham in the West Midlands. He saw a great deal of dysfunctional society during his four-and-a-half years’ Police service and realised the necessity of always being truthful, factual and slow to judge others. Deciding to pursue a different career in Australia, he chose telecommunications and has worked in sales, product and marketing management in the public and private sectors. In 1981, he became ill with arthritis and ceased full-time work in 1992, when he became a sessional teacher at TAFE in a number of subjects — mainly related to manufacturing. During the Howard years, he became interested in politics and after “hiding in plain sight” for many years, joined the Labor party in 2010. Vince has many interests, including social justice, inclusion and the good old Australian “fair go” for all. He has policy interests in economics and education. His interest in history shows that we make the same mistakes over and over again and hopes to make a difference to the political debate by clear thinking and analysis rather than by trite sloganeering. In his private life, Vince enjoys woodwork and also is a keen family historian, with a very Irish paternal side and a very French Huguenot maternal side — and is a mixture of a working class and an upper middle class upbringing. He has a Bachelors degree in Business and qualifications in Workplace Training and Assessing. He is also a keen home brewer of fine ales — at least according to his son!


  1. Thanks Joy. I am hopping mad about the way that these bullies just take casual swips at the disabled making up all sorts of stories which are just not true. It is very very difficult to be granted a DSP and I very much doubt that there are any bludgers on this pension at all.

  2. That is true, Vince. Just been having a discussion on Twitter with someone who said how hard it was to get on Disability due to changes made by the Gillard Government. My partner went through hell to get on it during the Howard era, despite all the right boxes being ticked & recommendations by their own specialists.

    This being so it was mentioned that alcoholics can get on to the DSP much more easily apparently. Do know that my single no-kids nephew has been given the DSP, a 2 bedroom Housing Commission home (as he supposedly needs a 2nd bedroom for a helper!!!), furniture all because he claims to be an alcoholic who has walked out of every rehab he has been offered. Makes me so angry. A desperate family has to wait years to get a Housing Commission home. He didn’t.

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  4. “The best form of welfare is having a job” This phrase first popped up during the time Workchoices was foisted on Australians. It often was quoted with this gem “Any job is better than no job”. In actual fact the best form of welfare is welfare. A strong social safety net enriches those who are not on welfare by making a safer more peaceful society.

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