My DSP was approved (aka why JobSeeker is not a safety net)

You’ve probably heard me buzzing about on Twitter about how I received a positive outcome on having my DSP rejection reviewed. I’m getting DSP baby! I got the call at 5.15pm yesterday, smack on 49 days since the review letter said I’d be getting the decision in that timeframe. A phone call from an actual person too! I guess unlike a rejection I won’t yell at her. I squealed a little I think. A friend asked if I cried, but yeah not yet, just relieved to have it approved.

I’ll probably (and already have) go through some guilty feelings like I don’t deserve it (I do) and I’m giving up (I’m not) but yeah, riding high for now! Just sceptically keeping an eye on myGov to make sure they change it over, oh and that I get my backpay.

Some people (like my psychologist) have “checked in” to make sure that getting disability doesn’t mean I’ll be giving up on getting back to work one day. For those people, I reassure them that being on DSP won’t make me stop wanting to get back into paid work, or unpaid work using my many skills, and will in face HELP me to get back into that state. How so?, you may ask, if you’re unfamiliar with how being on the lower JobSeeker payment and having mutual obligations actually creates MORE of a barrier to gaining and maintaining employment, particularly for someone with a chronic illness that fluctuates and is exacerbated by the whole process…

I had started going on a rant about Work for the Dole, but having never done it all I can truly say about THAT is thank flying spaghetti monster that I’ve never had to. If you’ve done it, you might want to help the Antipoverty Centre in its campaign to Abolish work for the Dole by contributing to their survey of WFTD experiences or if you have the means, contribute financially to the GoFundMe.

So, why am I “completely stoked” to have been approved for DSP and not be on JobSeeker? What’s the difference, aside from the payment amount (both of which are below the poverty line and need to be lifted, but JobSeeker much more so)?

The obvious first one would be that I do no have to apply for jobs or complete those mutual obligations like studying or going to meetings or volunteer work in order to get my payment each fortnight. If I was under 35, I could still have mutual obligations though for DSP, which is a whole other kettle of fish. As we see by story after story , Disability employment services are a very expensive way to police people with acknowledge disabilities and illnesses that impact their ability to find and keep work. Generally you get sent to a DES provider rather than a regular mainstream JobActive provider after you’ve submitted medical certificates to Centrelink to get some time off from your mutual obligations. Because you’re more unwell that usual. At some point the exemption doesn’t get approved, because your GP ticked the wrong box, or said it was a permanent condition, and you go through an employment services assessment (Esat). This is a chat over the phone with a Centrelink-employed health work like and Occupational Therapist, and they determine how many hours a week you should be able to work based on this interview. This is given as a range, from 0-7 hours where you’re basically given an extended mutual obligations exemption for up to six months with regular check in appointments to make sure you’re still alive, to 8-15 or 16-30 hours, in which case you’re referred to a Disability Employment Service, who we’d all like to think specialises in getting disabled people into SUITABLE employment or study and has some knowledge or education around disabilities, illnesses and workplace supports.

(I hear some of you cry-laughing, and I can just tell you’ve been through DES at some point. The rest of you stick with me?)

So, if I have employment prospects, why isn’t going to a DES with JobSeeker allowance going to be helpful? Why won’t this be a suitable way to gain and maintain employment?

Disability services company pocketed nearly $1m for barista course lacking basic equipment, inquiry hears

Let me paint a picture of what it’s like looking for work with a mental illness (however I’m sure similar principals apply with any disability, particularly as most people fluctuate in their day-to-day ability to perform to the standards of the world without an illness…)

Hi, I’m Fiona. I have borderline personality disorder, I have a degree in speech pathology but I haven’t worked in the area in 8 years and I no longer have registration. I also have postgraduate qualifications in inclusive education. I stopped working as a speech pathologist due to my mental illness and its impact on my ability to be a reliable worker. When I’m not doing well, my planning and organisational skills go out the window. I become very unreliable. I’m erratic. I’m not going to outline everything here, but I’m not a good employee. Maybe I still show up to work, but it’s very hard to concentrate or to be around people long enough to get the work done. I may have started having problems with alcohol or self harm again. I may just head to Sydney on a whim and call in sick. I may show up work but not be in the condition to work, function, or be responsible for others safety let alone my own.

I’ve had many lots of therapy in the last 20 years. Psychology focussing on anxiety, CBT, medication, throwing myself into exercise (running 5km every morning DOES actually help with my anxiety), a 2 year block of weekly therapy that was thankfully covered by the government doing the conversational model. At the end of that last block I was working with a DES provider to try to get into some sort of work. We went with Disability Support/ carer work.

This DES provider worked with me to work towards getting a job. But there was always the threat of being cut off from payments if I didn’t tick the right boxes, submit the right forms. That does wonders for anxiety filled perfectionists with a ticking mental health problem that’s wanting to take you down.

I figured I could do volunteer work, at a special school, get my confidence up, get me some references. That all worked nicely. Also I got to use my speechie skills in classrooms again which was actually a very good use of my time.

By that stage I’d already been applying for jobs for about a year (I did interviews for so many Speech pathology jobs, locally, in Tamworth, Sydney, Bowral, Canberra, by phone to Albury and Broken Hill, and ones in the Northern Territory and the Pilbara that came with contracts and sign on bonuses. Some went okay, but I was never the top candidate, or some were uncomfortable with the gap in work that wasn’t due to having kids, a couple of interviews I ran out of in tears, and at least two I hung up the phone on. it got harder and hander and I was relieved to be told it was okay to stop trying for those)

But we went all in on the disability support jobs. Applied for all the companies in town, had a few interviews, I actually REALLY liked the group interview process for one, and managed to show off my knowledge and skills in that environment, only to shake my way through the individual one. I got to the point of doing a medical with them, but I had to do a couple of rounds of that to show my mental health was good enough… I got offered a different position elsewhere and took that one on. Casual. It was casual for a year, but I basically had as much work as I wanted.

I probably should have been getting post placement support from the DES provider but I don’t recall hearing from them again.

Alright, so I had a job. For four years. We won’t go into the process of losing that job, but it was mental health, alcohol misuse, and a WHOLE bunch of anxiety. That employer was so supportive to keep me on, and we tried to work with each other to make it happen, while I was accessing therapy and support, but it wasn’t working for me at that time, and I really feel like I let them down, but then I also was letting myself down by continuing to pretend I was okay.

Covid has been a bit of a blessing for me. The coronavirus supplement, having mutual obligations suspended, being able to access services by telehealth, all a blessing in disguise. I’ve had a wonderful GP who was willing to write me medical certificates. And I’ve answered to phone calls and done the reporting to Centrelink as they wanted, and not really had any way to step out of line. This would have continued to mid-year when I was going to be reassessed for job capacity and would have probably returned to the DES system with a 15 hour a week capacity assessment, and have to start working with the requirements again.

I’m happy to look for work when I’m ready. Not now. Now I’m not ready, I’m still doing hours of therapy each week, I still am working on meeting my daily standards as a human being. But I’d like to look for work (paid or unpaid) that uses my skills and interests and now this can happen in my own time rather than following the schedule the DES provider has to work under to meet their KPIs.

Currently I’m required to answer the occasional phone call, and to report mine and my partners income each fortnight in order to get paid. I’m pretty reliable at doing that, though I have been late on the reporting at lease once which meant waiting another day for my JobSeeker payment to land. My fault, but I forgot due to being overwhelmed with other aspects of dealing with existing with a mental illness, and did not treat myself kindly for the mistake. I’m my harshest critic…

I’ve been doing well in therapy, only needing to take a step back when I had Covid myself. I still made it to the group sessions by telehealth, but cancelled a couple of the individual ones as I wouldn’t be able to participate properly even by teams. So, I’m pleased with that , and myself.

I get scared when my psych brings up work and trying to come up with goals around that. I have some vague notions of what I might like to do if I can get myself able to work to a certain standard with the right supports from the employer and my other supports to stay well while I’m there.

Getting DSP means I can do this in my own way, in my own time. I have a little extra money each week. I don’t have the threat of having it cut off for failing to meet a target set by someone paid by the government to police me. I CAN choose to try getting a DES to support me, and there’s a “couple of good ones” in my area that I’m probably going to talk to. But I won’t be with one not of my choosing. I won’t have to do anything to make up hours that isn’t in my interests or that doesn’t help me with my skills or confidence. I can apply for as little or as few jobs that interest me. I can quit a job that isn’t working out and not face suspension of my payment. I have more leeway in terms of how much I can work without my payments going down or being stopped because I’ve been going well for a longer time. More of a safety net to fall back to if pushing myself starts doing more harm than good. I’m not there to meet someone else’s quotas, for a business to refer me to their education wing for them to earn a bonus and for me to study something meaningless outside my cares or my skill level.

There’s always this threat on JobSeeker that you’re going to do the wrong thing, knowingly or unknowingly, and be cut off from your only (woefully low) source of income because computer says no.

I know it’s not all rose coloured glasses from here, but being on DSP is a weight off. A chance to be a little free-er, to be able to take more time to work on myself, being and doing the things I want to, not being chewed up by a machine that’s not working in my best interests.

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