Australians receiving unemployment and disability benefits often live with several health conditions and are more likely to go to hospital.
Because of this, focusing on health outcomes could be critical in assisting Australians on Newstart benefits to find and keep work, new research released today by Monash researchers found.
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“It’s hard to work when you’re sick. We found large disparities between the health of people receiving Centrelink benefits and wage earners,” lead researcher Professor Alex Collie said.
“Some of the findings are quite concerning, particularly the high rates of mental health problems experienced by benefit recipients. We also found that disability pensioners had more than double the rate of hospital admissions compared to wage earners.
“People on Newstart were three times more likely to report having at least 10 health conditions,” Collie said.
“Our study suggests that efforts to improve health in these groups should be a priority for government. Improving health can help people find and keep work.”
The study was the first to analyse the health of Australians receiving Newstart and the disability support pension, and saw the data of more than 9,000 people analysed.
‘Governments have made it more difficult to get the Disability Support Pension’
Responding to the research today, CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) Ross Joyce said the study provides a new insight into the health of some of “the most vulnerable people in our community”.
“Over the past decade, successive governments have made it more difficult for people to apply for the Disability Support Pension,” he said.
“We now have 200,000 people with disability who have been taken off the Disability Support Pension and placed on Newstart, many of whom have had their obligations under Newstart waived because of their disability.
“AFDO believes this traps people with disability into poverty and results in poor health outcomes. We need to urgently address the health of these people and provide them with targeted access to health services.”
Drug-tests considered for Newstart recipients
The study comes as the government considers forcing Newstart recipients – a growing number of whom are older Australians – to undertake mandatory drug tests, with cashless welfare cards the result of a positive test.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the drug tests would help people stay off drugs and give themselves the “best opportunities”.
However, the Australian Council of Social Services said such plans were “designed to stigmatise”, and Professor Nadine Ezard, clinical director of St Vincent’s Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Unit said there was no evidence that the controversial policy would help addicted Australians.
“An increase in stigma and anxiety for people with substance use disorders will exacerbate addiction issues rather than address them,” said Ezard.
“Threatening people who have a substance abuse disorder – that if they test positive they’ll be placed on income management – is not going to change their behaviour.”
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