People receiving the federal government’s main unemployment and disability benefits are more likely to have multiple health conditions and to be hospitalised, according to major national study.
The report, released today by Monash researchers, is the first national snapshot of the health, and the health service use, of people receiving Newstart and the disability support pension.
The study, led by Professor Alex Collie of the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, suggests that a focus on improving the health of these people could increase their ability to find and keep work.
Researchers analysed National Health Survey data of more than 9000 people, including 638 disability pension recipients and 442 Newstart recipients.
People receiving the Centrelink benefits were more likely than workers to have many problems, and more likely to have multiple problems and diseases. They were more likely to be hospitalised, were heavy users of healthcare services, and had higher rates of medication use.
The rate of mental health conditions was much higher among people receiving the benefits, with 69 per cent of disability pensioners and 49 per cent of Newstart recipients reporting psychological or behavioural problems, compared with 21 per cent of workers.
“It’s hard to work when you’re sick. We found large disparities between the health of people receiving Centrelink benefits and wage earners,” Professor 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.
“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 CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Ross Joyce, said: “This study gives us new insight into the health of people with disability who receive income support through the DSP and Newstart, some of whom are the most vulnerable people in our community.”
“Over the past decade, successive governments have made it more difficult for people to apply for the DSP. 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,” Mr Joyce said.
The Monash research team is also launching a study that aims to understand the experiences of people on the DSP and their interactions with Centrelink.
“One thing we know is that bureaucratic processes can be bad for health, particularly mental health,” Professor Collie said.
“Our new study aims to explore the links between people’s interactions with Centrelink and their health.”
People applying for the DSP, or receiving the DSP, can take part in the study by visiting www.dspstudy.com.