Welfare reform concerns Toowoomba organisations

Sharon Boyce.
Sharon Boyce. Contributed

TWO organisations who work with Toowoomba's most vulnerable have raised concerns about the McClure report into Australia's welfare system.

The focus of the review on encouraging people to work is good in theory, but it will fail if the jobs aren't available, according to Toowoomba Clubhouse executive director Luke Terry.

When the interim report was released in June last year, Mr Terry was one of the many disability advocates unhappy with its failure to provide for people with mental health problems.

However, he said the final report, released yesterday, addressed these problems and called for a focus on creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities and mental illness.

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"Toowoomba is particularly good for this, with social enterprise business like Bounce and places like the City Golf Club and St Vincent's who employ people with a limited capacity."

His major concern for the report was whether those entry-level jobs suitable for people with limited abilities would be created.

"There's a big drop in those entry level positions. Manufacturing, for example, has dropped from 25 per cent to five per cent and there have been a lot of these jobs going offshore.

"We'll face real problems if we don't address this.

"The government needs to continue with initiatives where people with limited ability can get jobs."

Toowoomba Clubhouse executive director Luke Terry.
Toowoomba Clubhouse executive director Luke Terry. Kevin Farmer

As a person who has lived with a high-level physical disability and the program coordinator of Discovering DisAbility and Diversity, Sharon Boyce was concerned the streamlined system would not acknowledge the individual needs of the vulnerable, particularly the disabled, in the community.

"The keys to any reform are education, flexibility and a process that values the individual person," she said.

"My questions would be in relation to individual choice and disability and employment issues - for example a person with MS or arthritis or any other high level disability might be able to work most of the time and love to do so, but also have down times when they are unable to work.

"It's all very well to say these things in a policy, but in practice, it may be different. We need to look at all individuals and create a fair and flexible system to allow people to feel valued members of the community and be able to participate and contribute as much as they can."

The McClure report, commissioned by the Federal Government in December 2013, calls for a complete system overhaul and the simplification of the 20 income support payments and 55 supplementary payments into five basic categories.

It suggests these primary payments should be: a tiered working age payment, a supported living pension, a child and youth payment, a carer payment and an age pension.

"The new income support system should have a strong employment focus. It should encourage and support people to work to their capacity," the review said.

"A Passport to Work should be developed that supports people to transition from income support to work."

One of the major changes would be the tightening of eligibility for disability support. The report recommended a supported living pension for those assessed as having a work capacity of less than eight hours a week and who were expected to have the same limited capacity for another five years.

It recommended a person's eligibility for the payment be based not on the permanence of their impairment, but on how long they would be limited in their capacity to work.

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