I had another Committee hearing today, this time in Canberra into some new Social Security legislation arising out of last year’s Budget. Like many such Bills, it contains a number of different, disconnected measures (which also describes how my brain felt after having to get out of bed at 3.30am to catch the plane). Most of the measures in the Bill are fairly minor, including a further attempt to improve the messy mechanism for assessing people’s income to determine the amount of Family Tax Benefit Payment they are entitled to.
The main item of contention in the Bill is the plan to limit the maximum backdating period when claiming Carer Allowance to just 12 weeks prior to the date the claim was lodged.
Carer Allowance is an income supplement that is paid to a person who provides daily care to a person with a disability or significant medical condition. It is non-means tested and paid at the rate of $94.70 per fortnight.
Currently, where a person claims Carer Allowance for a child under 16, payment can be backdated for up to 52 weeks. Where a person claims Carer Allowance for an adult, payment can be backdated for up to 26 weeks if the disability is due to the acute onset of an illness. (see this submission from the Welfare Rights Centre for more details).
This change is not going to affect millions of Australians. It will probably ‘only’ be in the tens of thousands each year who miss out. Losing nearly $50 extra a week will add up to about $2000 at most. However, there is no dispute that people who care for disabled family members at home suffer serious disadvantage, and save the taxpayer enormous amounts by taking on that caring role. For those people it will mean less assistance at a time when most of them are significantly in need of it.
The evidence to the Committee hearing today from the government Department made it very obvious that this was purely a savings measure. The best rationale provided was that it would “standardize, rationalise and reduce the backdating period”, as if this was a reason in its self. Even this reason is mostly untrue of course – it doesn’t standardize with any other existing income support payments, it just standardizes the backdating period for the two payment variations. It also doesn’t rationalize, as the overall number of payments stays the same. Of course it is true that the payment period is reduced – that’s the whole point. I guess one true word out of 3 isn’t too bad, and they do sound nice when you say them together, giving the impression of being something much more portentous than they really are.
I find it hard to see how this cut in income can be justified at the expense of carers, especially at a time when the federal Budget is in such massive surplus.
The Committee is due to report on the legislation when the Senate resumes in a couple of weeks time.