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People need to be healthy to be able to support themselves and their families. Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, including Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. You can take action on this issue and more here.

Australians receiving unemployment benefits via the welfare system endure at least six times the rate of poor health than wage earners, a new study reveals. 

The Monash University report examines, for the first time, the extensive health issues for Newstart recipients. The study shows the nation’s 700,000 recipients are 6.8 times as likely to label their health as “poor” and are overall more susceptible to an “increased burden of ill health.”

Almost half of all Newstart recipients have mental or behavioral issues — contrasted against 21% for people who are employed. Likewise, recipients are considerably “more likely to report having five or more conditions than wage earners.”

Individuals receiving the benefits were also up to two times as likely to be hospitalized than the general population.

“Poor health is a barrier to work. There is substantial global evidence of the link between health and the ability to find and maintain work,” the report states. “The findings of this study, when combined with prior evidence, suggest that an opportunity to improve the employment outcomes of people receiving the [benefits] is to focus on health improvement.”

Alex Collie, the study’s lead researcher, has echoed long-voiced requests to increase the rate of the Newstart allowance.

The allowance currently provides a single person $277.85 AUD a week, or around $40 a day. The rate has not been increased in real terms in 25 years. In July, the Australian Medical Association joined calls for an urgent rise.

“My personal view is that an increase in the rate of Newstart would help people to become more healthy,” Collie told the Guardian. “It would help them to afford the things that a lot of us take for granted like food and housing, which are important things if you’re trying to be healthy. Not doing it just means we’re putting those people in positions where it’s less likely that they’re going to be able to live a healthy life.”

Australian Federation of Disability Organizations (AFDO) CEO Ross Joyce said hundreds of thousands of Australians with disabilities are incorrectly receiving Newstart benefits instead of the Disability Support Pension. Thousands are therefore trapped and unable to receive the health care they require. 

Joyce has called for an overhaul of the way the government assists 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 in a media release. “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,” he added.  

The study comes amid government discussions around the possibility of forcing Newstart recipients to undertake mandatory drug tests. If a positive test is recorded, individuals will receive 80% of their benefits via a cashless welfare card, in an effort to prevent the money being used for drugs.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan was “innovative” and other ministers claim it would give people with drug addictions the “best opportunities.”

The Australian Council of Social Services and other rights activists, however, claim it was “designed to stigmatize.”

“An increase in stigma and anxiety for people with substance use disorders will exacerbate addiction issues rather than address them,” Nadine Ezard, the clinical director of St Vincent’s Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Unit, said in a media release. “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 behavior.”


Defeat Poverty

Australian Welfare Recipients Are Nearly 7 Times More Likely to Suffer Poor Health: Study

By Madeleine Keck