Legislation to reduce payment to Carers : Tuesday (pt 1)

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.

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for raising this issue Andrew, it seems so petty of Government to target a group like this for such a small saving.

    Carers give up so much and work so hard at what must seem at times a thankless task – and as you say they receive very little recompense already while saving the Australian taxpayer millions.

    I can’t imagine the average Australian would think this petty cost cutting exercise is the right thing to do. Yet the Government will get away with it and the quality of live for these people will be greatly reduced – and they will struggle on because they do it out of love and commitment.

    The Government knows this and plays on it – that and the fact that they know the average Australian wont get to hear about it.

  2. I can only concur with Anonymous… Carers are amongst the most under-appreciated people in the community. This is just a petty cost cutting exercise, that will do more harm than good.

  3. Maybe you’d like to call Alan Jones on 2GB Andrew. This is one of his pet subjects…

    ASSISTANCE FOR CARERS 2 MARCH 2006
    It’s Thursday, March 2, ten years to the day since John Howard was elected Prime Minister.

    And some would say, by the way he’s going, that he only has another 8 years, five months and a few days to overtake Sir Robert Menzies.

    It would be a foolish man to bet he couldn’t do it.

    One of the themes of his celebration has been that there is still a lot to do.

    Well of that, there can be no doubt.

    Immigration and citizenship have emerged in the last week as issues on which the electorate are expecting new directions.

    And the simple fact that Sydney recycles less than 3% of its water, and that we have pristine drinking water used to cool power stations, flush toilets and feed gardens and factories all over the country highlights the fact that, on the critical issue of water, we have barely made a beginning.

    But there are day to day issues which defy common sense.

    In many ways, it’s the nature of government.

    But only in the last week we have learnt that some of the most critical people in our community, people caring for family members with disabilities or serious medical conditions, are going to lose thousands of dollars in income assistance.

    This is called a $100 million Federal budget saving measure.

    And given that there are 76 millionaire families in this country getting $117 a fortnight in family tax payments.

    And given there are 352,000 families earning more than half a million dollars a year, getting the family tax benefit, what on earth are we doing belting carers around the head.

    This is how it happens.

    From July 1 this year, not far away, people who apply for a carer’s allowance worth, I might add, a piddling $94.70 a fortnight, won’t be able to claim for a past year’s worth of payments.

    They will only be able to back-date claims for 12 weeks.

    And we are told these changes will save the Federal government $100 million over three years.

    You see, what happens with these people is that a family member has an acute onset of an illness.

    Your first preoccupation is, do I give up work and become a full time carer.

    Family comes first.

    Now under the system that is being changed, you would have found out somewhere down the track, as your income dries up because you left work, that there is a thing called a carer’s allowance.

    $94.70 a fortnight.

    The carer most probably didn’t know of the payment, or didn’t have time to apply for it.

    So you could back date claims for up to 26 weeks, if you were caring for an adult.

    If you were caring for a child under the age of 16 with a disability, as many do, you could back date your claim for up to 52 weeks.

    Now the last thing on the mind of someone providing care to someone who has suddenly become sick, is contacting Centrelink.

    Most people, and that would include you and me, wouldn’t have a clue such a payment existed until a long time after you started the caring.

    Well, legislation is being put together to say if you don’t claim within 12 weeks, forget it.

    Carers are people who give up work to care for family members.

    There is not enough support for these people as it is.

    So if you are going to overhaul the welfare system, for God’s sake, leave these people alone.

    They are not ripping off the system.

    They have given up work.

    They are amongst the most disadvantaged people in the country.

    This piddling $94.70 is not income support…it’s income!

    How the hell can any government be attacking these people while our 76 millionaire families to continue to get family tax benefit, and 352,000 families, earning more than half a million dollars, do likewise.

    The Prime Minister, on his anniversary, says there are things to be done.

    Well here is a starting point, P.M., the carers’ allowance.

    Knock off this nonsense.

  4. On the surface I agree with both 1 and 2. However some facts would assist.

    “Tens of thousands” will be affected. How many, surely the bureacrats could provide that exactly for last year. How many cares recvei the benefit ,what proportion put in late claims.?

    Why would tens of thousands of people put in climas for lenghty periods of back datibng?

    Were they not aware of this benefit?
    Did they simply not bother?

    What is an approprite cut off time? Is there one?

    Despite all that it doens seem a bit of [penny pinching.

  5. Brief Profile of Carers in Australia

    In 2003, there were almost 2.6 million carers (13% of population) in Australia.

    About 20% of them (2% of population) were primary carers, the majority of whom (78%) were living in the same household as the main care recipient.

    Most primary carers were female (71%) and only 39% participated in the workforce compared with 68% of non-carers.

    Eighty percent of primary carers had spent between 2 and 24 years caring and 55% had spent 20 hours or more per week on caring.

    Fifty-five percent of primary carers received a government allowance or benefit as their principal source of income and their median gross household income was $237 per week.

    want more info?

    http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:GcuKmQr52kUJ:www.carersnsw.asn.au/storage/pdfs/abs_sdac_carer_stats.pdf+CARERS+BENEFITS+australia+&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3

    .

  6. Well here is the answer if any person or party is interested. Twenty seven dollars and seventy five cents used to be the amount paid by tax payers for in home care. I think its around almost thirty these days. The federal Government send it to the states. The states to their chosen care providers who are normally a church based Then the aged person puts in as well.
    It works out at about five hundred dollars provided in total for in home care for aged or those with disabilitys.Not a fortune but enough to provide at least two hours a day with a chosen company by the elderly person giving them some dignity and Choice of provider.At present they are lucky to receive three hours a week. Also it would create a few jobs which again are all tax payers. The act is in urgent need of repair because carers can not claim anything if the elderly person is receiving this in home care. Thats nothing at all. It seems the Government think our elderly only require three hours a week care. So anyway how come the churches and providers can only give 3 hours a week at 500.00 per fortnight?
    umm Wonder why the State Government does not change the system or the federal Government deal direct with center link and provide jobs and carers for the elderly?oh I forgot they have to get their votes dont they! They last time I worked out a carers wages it was 3 cents an hour. I am not surprised the Government think that too much
    Family first probably supported this chance to decrease. They can bet their money on it.

  7. Andrew.

    As someone who has a interest in this issue, thanks for making comment on the government’s plan to inflict more heartache on those who will seek access to this payment.

    Personally, I don’t believe that the payment is adequate and it needs to be considerably increased. Whilst the Senate Committee didn’t recieve a large amount of submissions and this can be again, put down to the lack-of-time, the final report will also be of interest.

    For those who have perhaps, read through the submissions, or having listened to the parliamentary broadcast (online) of the Committee’s hearing, it is clearly a cost-saving measure. It also shows the complete lack of compassion by the Howard Government on yet, another issue.

  8. None of that info answers the question as to why “tens of thousands” of carers putting in “backdated” claims which appaerntly is the point Andrew refers to as of “contention” in the proposed legislation.

  9. This attitude and Policy is set up so that the Government can ensure that they can then discredit people. Its like giving people no choice but to sue in order to get justice and then critising them for taking that action and presenting them as greedy and out for money.

    When a person becomes a carer the last thing that they think of is Welfare, they are just desperately trying to survive. Our Government wants our first thought no matter what happens to be Welfare, then they can critisize us for having a welfare mentality and turn it on the people.

    Not to many people would use the carers allowance of 90 odd dollars a fortnight to live a life of luxury. Most put that money towards the management of the condition of the person that they are caring as they cant use the Public Health System because it is just so inadequate.

  10. Well Ken maybe they didn’t know they were entitled to government support. It’s been my experience that many welfare options aren’t widely known in the community.

    I’m certain there are benefits available to people in all sorts of situations we aren’t aware of.

    As for the 12 weeks… do you know how very little time that can be incertain situations?

  11. Andrew,
    I certainly agree that legitimate carers are under-resourced but I am not quite sure as to why a limitation of 12 weeks on backdating of benefits would affect so many people or why it would be such a heinous idea. Could you please clarify?

    Geoff ( #3 )
    Can you please clarify how there could possibly be 352,000 families on an income of > $500,000. I realise that these are not your figures but, as you have quoted them, does this seem credible to you? BTW, I am horrified if 1 family on such an income receives extra welfare which may come at the expense of genuine carers.

    “Anonymous” ( #9 )
    That’s you isn’t it, Jolanda?

  12. Sorry Jane not my figures as you said. I just dropped Alan’s editorial in for the sake of the debate. You could go to the source for clarification or tha ABS or the tax department I suppose to check.

    Lets see 352,000, on the face of it it does seem rather a lot doesn’t it…
    another source the SMH…
    The president of the National Welfare Rights Network, Michael Raper. Could be a false claim I suppose. Vested interest groups seem to have a habit of gilding the lily.
    http://smh.com.au/news/national/carers-lose-out-in-100m-budget-drive/2006/02/27/1141020023609.html

    Been onto the NWRN and they can’t confirm a source for those figures.

  13. Some answers to some of the questions raised – especially by Ken & Jane:

    I’m not suggesting this change will send people to the wall. I am saying it is unnecessary penny-pinching from people who are already in difficult situations and who will clearly benefit from the extra assistance. Many (although not all) disabilities and illnesses create extra costs at the onset stage, so the extra ‘lump sum’ of backdating often just goes towards debts already incurred.

    At least in regard to children, the 12 month backdating provision has been in place for many years – back to the days of the Child Disability Allowance which I can recall from when I worked in the old Dept of Social Security in the 1980s.

    The Dept provided the Committee hearing with estimates of the numbers of people likely to be affected by the change. According to them, there are currently about 95 000 new grants for Carers Allowance made each year, of which 42 000 involved some amount of backdating.

    Of the 95 000, around 23 000 are ones who claim for caring for a child, and about 72% of these get backdated – most of them for the full 52 weeks. So approx 16 500 people will miss out on
    around $1800.

    The Welfare Rights submission I linked to in the original post gives some good explanations of why people are often undertaking large amounts of caring for long periods prior to claiming for Carers Allowance. In brief, it includes:
    (a) Carers Allowance is a supplementary payment, not a primary income support payment (not to be confused with Carers Payment or Pension), so people aren’t in a position where all their income has stopped – which tends to make people think of going to Centrelink as a matter of course;
    (b) for the same reason, there is not a high awareness of the existance of the Allowance;
    (c ) in addition it is not means tested, so even people who may know of it but have reasonable levels of income might assume they would not be entitled;
    (d) particularly with children, it can take quite a while to get a precise diagnosis, so people can be unsure how long-term the situation tey are dealing with is. Conditions on the autism spectrum are a good example of this.

    The spiel by Alan Jones that Geoff pasted at comment #3 (while perhaps not quite right in a couple of spots) also gives a good flavour of people’s circumstances before first claiming a payment like this.

    For the really keen, you can read the Hansard transcript of the Committee hearings by clicking here (warning – sizeable pdf file). The Department’s evidence on the carer’s issue starts around the middle of page 23.

  14. Whats required are some new policys. When people take the trouble to post them, or suggest some alternative policys nobody bothers to look or consider them .What is the whole point. Why dont you all try to come up with alternative policys and ideas to help fix the problem, not only on this issue but all of them. Time and time again I see people complaining [and most times] rightfully so. However why dont you start up a suggestion box or something. We might all learn from each other and better still learn to respect others ideas. Policys come from others ideas and the advisers are so far removed from issues such as this one they are not in a position to fix it. I am sure if you all think about something else to replace the current policy [that does not costs more] you can do it. My previous post was a start has anybody got any other ideas? or a way to improve on that one? That is if anybody is interested to try to help these carers and the people in need of their care.

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