How being on the DSP has allowed me to stabilise my mental health

I was approved for the disability support pension about two years ago now. It wasn’t a straightforward process, and I was initially rejected, with my request for a review going through successfully without any more information from me. So, how has being on DSP improved my quality of life?

Slightly more money – the partnered DSP rate is currently $826.70 per fortnight, $140 more than the $686.00 I’d be getting on JobSeeker. (source DSS 2023) The difference for singles is more – $347.50 a fortnight extra to use to pay for the basics of life, costs which all agree are more with a disability – studies showing that you need at least 50% more disposable income to live with a disability in Australia. Not that any of the DSP gets to be disposable.

Getting off the Disability Employment Services radar – I’ve had a lot of exemptions from job searching in my time on payments, so for me this meant there was no looming date where I’d have to reengage with DES or have to get a correctly written medical certificate from my non-bulk billing doctor to have them waived again. This was a huge stress relief, not having to apply for jobs I wasn’t ready for, and not having to show up to fortnightly appointments to talk about how my life was falling apart this week and how a minimum wage cleaning job was clearly what I needed to fix my mental health.

Did you know under-35s on DSP have mutual obligations these days? Any disabled person who is failing to meet their “obligations” and getting cut of their payments is clearly being failed by the services that are supposed to be supporting them.

TIME and SPACE – time and space to do the therapies that I was already involved in. When I got DSP, I was doing 4 sessions a week of various therapies – individual and group – for borderline personality disorder and alcohol dependence. I could now just focus on these for awhile. So, I certainly wasn’t sitting at home on DSP, I was doing therapy in person and online, I was practicing getting out and about into the world again after a breakdown that coincided with Covid routine changes and added stresses. I’ve been sober 3 three years now, and certainly the support of having the DSP and not having to meet others expectations around employment have let me maintain that even amongst the rest of the chaos that life brings.

Time and space to figure me out and pursue my own interests and use my skills. I also started to learn the confidence to pace myself properly – I had a therapy goal that was basically following through on things I committed to. Which is two sided – both not chickening out with anxiety or low energy when it all gets too much, but also not letting it get to much – knowing my schedule, knowing how much and what sorts of things I can commit to and only pushing myself as far as I should go. Not saying yes because it’s expected of me, but giving things a go and seeing if they do spark joy. It’s amazing how much energy expenditure varies when you are following an interest!

Time and space to prioritise my “little routine”, allowing myself to see getting up and dressed or putting away the washing as an achievement, and being happy with my day. If I get my little routine together, if I do my chore, make my dinners, then I have more time and space mentally and practically to do more of the things that are generally seen as productive – supporting friends and family, writing and advocacy, maybe even doing a little bit of paid work here and there!

There’s so many goals I’m starting to see as achievable for myself after having this period of self-stability. It’s allowed me to try new things, put my hand up to do things I care about and feel are important, with the knowledge that I don’t have to meet someone else’s expectations to get paid each fortnight. I don’t know if I’ll make it back to earning enough to no longer get the pension, I’d love to do more, be more independent financially, actually have a disposable income, but I have time now. Time and space to dip in and out of the outside world as I can in a way that is of benefit to both myself and everyone else near and dear to me.

I’m certainly not “fixed”. I’m starting with a new psych, but being on DSP means that that would be prohibitively expensive if I hadn’t been able to get in with one that I can see for free for 10 sessions, but only on a Thursday and only from April. I also need to properly explore my neurodivergence, somehow find the energy and the money to get assessed for Autism and ADHD, especially if that would help me at all when it comes with getting even more okay with living in this world.

Just needed to breathe.

How Labor Ensured the Death of Universal Bulk Billing

Yes yes, the LNP froze the Medicare rebates for years, pushing GPs away from being able to bulk bill all their patients, but many still chose to bulk bill, or offered bulk billing to kids and concession card holders. Others moved to private billing entirely, with some offering a slightly lower upfront cost if you’re a cardholder, but not all.

In all the cases where the GP is choosing to bulk bill or take a lower upfront payment they are effectively having to absorb that cost into the practice and have to covered by full fee paying patients.

But the changed to have a different bulk billing incentive for those that have a concession card and those that don’t has certainly stopped some bulk billing non-eligible patients, as they would then be worth $13 less per consultation, and where is the sense of obligation to bulk bill regular patients if they are worth less on the books than those with concessions and kids?

The RACGPs recommends a level B consult fee of just over $100. So, when they bulk-bill a patient, they are accepting a lower payment than if they charged them privately. If they private bill though, the patient will only get the regular rebate back, and that $20 is lost to the empty promises.

Who does the bulk billing incentive apply to? This incentive only applies to the following vulnerable patient groups, and only if they are bulk billed: Children under 16 years Commonwealth concession card holders (Centrelink or DVA cards): Pensioner Concession Card Health Care Card Commonwealth Seniors Health Card How much is the bulk billing incentive? The bulk billing incentive applies to eligible patients as per the following locations: Metro (MMM1): $20.65 Regional centres (MMM2): $30.15 Large-medium rural towns (MMM3-4): $31.95 Small rural towns (MMM5): $34.05 Remote communities (MMM6): $35.80 Very remote communities (MMM7): $39.65

So, when Labor defend the stage three tax cuts with the bulk billing incentives and the chance they make a difference to people’s ability to access the medical care they need, I laugh and cry.

If you’re on $45k, you’re unlikely to have a health care card (you might if you have a family member with a disability) so your 43c a week isn’t exactly going to cover the $90 upfront my GP charges, or the $70 with concession. You might be able to buy some of that “summer sports gear” for a certain upcoming long weekend, but you won’t be able to cover the “$30” meds that went up to $31.60 on Jan 1.

So, while the LNP starved Medicare, by creating a three-tier system, Labor are killing the last of the will for universal bulk-billing. So every time they tout the tripled bulk billing incentive, remember that it only applies to kids under 16, concession card holders and some eligible Indigenous Australians, and so leaves out the precious middle Australia that I thought they were trying to win over? No?

Who even is the Labor target market these days?

Spoiler alert: My GP didn’t go back to bulk-billing

Like, I wasn’t actually EXPECTING them to go back to bulk-billing pensioners, other concession card holder and children despite Labor members spouting on about the triple bulk billing incentive and how they were saving medicare and bulk billing and helping disabled people in this cost of living crisis. Or wait, they didn’t actually say disabled people, they only talk about us when it’s about us being all diagnosed with Autism and getting on the NDIS. 

So, I am again just before pension day with less than $20 to my name, because I had to hand over $69 this morning for my GP. Who is unfortunately moving to Queensland next year. Like, this might be a chance to attempt to find a bulk billing doctor near my new place, but ugh, I hate trying to suss out new doctors and feel like they actually want me there. 

We’ve been super stressed here with the move to, I was worried I was gonna take too long with the doctor today and have to pay for a level C consult, but fortunately we realised he could only give me my scripts, reassure me that things will be easier after the mood, and tell me it’s okay to take a little more Quetiapine til the move’s done since I’m so agitated.

I just wish it was all easier. And cheaper hey?

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Half-Term for Labor… and a 50-50 2pp?

Don’t listen to the polls unless they suit you, and then don’t listen then, but surely Labor finding themselves at a 50-50 two party preferred 18 months into what they hope to the be the first term of many should be a wake-up call for Albanese and co? The fear of many in my circles in they’re seeing it as a signal they need to be more like Dutton, and the rushed legislation to continue criminalising the immigrants that had been ruled to be detained indefinitely illegally doesn’t sit well. Labor needs to remember they’re not necessarily losing votes to the LNP by being shit-lite, but to Greens and Independents from across the political spectrum.

They saw it blatantly with the election of Dai Le in Fowler, Labor took a population for granted, and in more than one seat went against the wishes of the local branch to pick their candidate. And Keneally’s loss was spectacular, And State and Federal parliamentary Labor are thumbing their nose once more at voters they continue to take for granted – Muslim and Arab families, and those who love them, by ignoring their local branches – including the PM’s own Marrickville –  calls for stronger language to be used when calling for Israel to stop their slaughter in Gaza and the rest of the region. The “pause” we have at the moment, Israel not receiving any condemnation for its blatant breaches and ridiculous actions that their army is willingly boasting about on Tik Tok of all places.

But what do I want from Labor? Have I given them enough time? Let’s look at their current 10 points they and their stans keeps talking up and letcha know how they’re working in reality.

1. Energy bill relief

For me in NSW, as a concession card holder, I get a total of $500 over this financial year credited to my account. This has ben $125 each quarter so far, but it has quickly disappeared and been absorbed by the doubling of the power bill by taking on the kids – who while they also have concessions can’t get additional support towards the bill, because it’s once per household. I hear that different places are rolling out more community batteries soon, which is awesome and really helps balance that load, but wouldn’t it be nice if renters were able to get their landlords to install solar and take advantage of that cheap cheap electricity?

2. Cheaper child care

Initial reports of fees going up with the subsidy going up abound, overall child care costs less per hour per child now than it did. But there’s many parts of the country where there are not enough places, workers are still underpaid for what they do to support the little ones and there’s still a requirement to be working or studying a certain amount to access the subsidy, which rules out a lot of precarious workers and kids who would benefit developmentally from attending childcare or preschool.

3. Increased rent assistance

*insert snorting milk out of nose gif here* – I’m getting a whole $13 a week extra in rent assistance now. And my rent is going up $60 a week in the upcoming move, not even taking into account the thousands we have to spend to move between bod, rent in advance, overlapping rent, and utilities, cleaning, petrol and van hire, time off work for Bruce and general stress expenses. “Fortunately” Bruce received his Nan’s inheritance earlier than expected, and instead of using that for car upgrades and tools for work we’re having to drop a lot on this move, and hopefully get some of it back when we get the bond, sell my AU and hopefully sell some of Bruce’s car parts. But it succcckkkkkkkkssss.

4. More Medicare bulk billing

I’ll letcha know Wednesday if I get bulk billed, but nothing on the doctor’s website indicates they’re going back to bulk billing kids and concession card holders despite the increased incentive, so I’m gonna rock up with that $69 to pay and hope they tell me nah, it’s on the government. But we’ll see.

UPDATE 29/11 – I wasn’t bulk billed.

5. Cheaper medicines

Not for concession card holders, ours were indexed with inflation on Jan 1. Happy for those without concessions who’ve seen some of theirs go down though.

6. Boosting income support payments

How’d my frens out there on youth allowance and jobseeker spend their extra $20 a week? Don’t know, it just got absorbed because the costs of essentials continue to grow faster than inflation? Yeah, if you see someone shoplifting, no you didn’t. And, no there was no increase to DSP, my $59 a day partner rate is doing some heavy lifting.

Graphic design of a garbage dumpster on fire with bin juice pooling at the bottom above the text "centrestink"
Centrestink bin fire by Jez Heywood

7. Fee-free TAFE training

In select courses and limited in number, and with Austudy and Youth allowance so far below the poverty line how can you even AFFORD to study even if the course itself is free? How do you pay for transport and internet and food and texts and course supplies?

8. Building more affordable homes

Hoping to see these happen, but wow, there’s a long time before we see any impact there. And how the fuck does one even define affordable when it just needs to rent out $10 a week lower than market rate. Which is unaffordable for essential university trained teachers and such let alone supermarket workers, students and disabled people. It doesn’t stop rents continue to go up, renters being in such a vulnerable position. State, Federal and Councils need to directly buy and build public housing. They only way to fix the housing stock is to build for those at the bottom, get the families out of the caravan parks and tents, allow families to live and stay in a community for their kids to grow up, not fear having to move at the next rent hike.

9, Expanding Paid parental leave

I’m incredible uninformed on this. Probably would have been awesome as a baby producing allied health worker on $100k a year. As the second parent of a newborn, the son in law was entitled to two weeks off mutual obligations when bub was born, and got cut off several times for missing appointments because the baby was up all night. At least parents next is gone, but hey all those parents who got to access single parent payment up to their kids turning 14 now have to do mutual obligations…

10 Creating jobs and getting wages moving again

Oooh is that the 3000 Centrelink jobs to deal with the massive call wait times, months delays in processing payments and the 180 staff leaving the agency each month? Union members are striking in the meantime because despite promises to restore the public service the government can’t agree to a pay seal for Services Australia staff. The government needs to set the standard it expects from the rest of the employers out there, and in this they are failing.

A red background with text 10 ways we are helping Australian with the cost of living 1. Energy bill relief 2. cheaper child care 3. Increase rent assistance 4 more medicare bulk billing 5. Cheaper medicines 6. Boosting income support payments 7. fee-free tafe training 8. Building more affordable homes 8. Expanding Paid parental leave 10 Creating jobs and getting wages moving again

So yeah, I’m tired, stressed, broke and disappointed in the Albanese government’s first 18 months. I’m sad to see Palestinians being killed and the founder of the Friends of Palestine unwilling to put his neck out and condemn the slaughter.

I’ll get through this move, and vow to use the faster internet I’ve been promised by TPG to do what I can to continue to speak truth to power. We get the keys in a week, and hand back the keys for the current place on the 13th.

Send coffee, cleaning products and chocolate. So much chocolate.

Love you guys.

Twenty Two FUCKING Billion

You know how I hated the surplus back when it was only $19 billion?

The 
@AlboMP

@AustralianLabor
 Government has delivered a surplus at the same time as providing billions of dollars in cost-of-living relief to Australians doing it tough, including energy bill rebates, cheaper medicines and cheaper childcare #auspol #ausecon

Well I hate it even more today that it seems to have grown $3 Billion. Not the figure itself, or why it’s there, but because the politicians are smiling and announcing it the same week that the long awaiting “biggest permanent increases to JobSeeker” ever and “biggest increase in commonwealth rent assistance in 30 years” are also on their brag list.

Because those might sound like good things, but in real dollarydoos, I’m getting an extra $13 a week in rent assistance. Those on Jobseeker single will be getting an extra $56.10 a fortnight – $14 of that from indexation. My DSP indexation is $26.70 for the fortnight. Bringing my grand total pension to $1000.70 a fortnight. I worked out my share of rent only takes up 41% of my pension now, not 44%, but we’re due for a rent increase so check back soon :/

All the rates are still below the poverty line measures we have at hand. Labor have chosen to keep the rates like they are. They have also chose to keep the Stage Three Tax cuts. The cost of living relief, while all been welcome  – the doubling amount of meds you can get in a script for certain drugs, I’m getting $125 off each of the next quarters electricity bills – but costs have skyrocketed everywhere, from milk, to petrol to rent (if you’re lucky enough to be housed) and there is no discretionary funds anymore. You call us fixed incomes here on the pension, because the aged and disability pensioners shouldn’t have to do work that they can’t in order to be able to afford to live. Carers can’t do any more. Those on JobSeeker are doing their best to find jobs, but jobs go to those who can afford to present themselves well, that can afford a haircut, new clothes, not have their car break down AGAIN. And the students, well they’re somehow expected to do well in their studies while supplementing with got knows how much paid work to make ends meet. We’re tired, Jim.

Government has not changed its view on tax cuts, Chalmers says
Jim Chalmers is now on RN Breakfast, where he was asked by host Hamish McDonald whether he was reconsidering the stage-three tax cuts given much of the $22.1bn budget surplus comes from the taxes of “hard working Australians”.

Chalmers said the government has not changed its view on the tax cuts, which recent data showed will flow disproportionately to high-income earners and men:

Well, first of all, it’s partly a function that people are working more and earning more. The labor market is incredibly resilient given what’s coming at us from around the world. And so unemployment is lower than what many people anticipated. And wages have began growing again, and that’s a good thing too. And that’s one of the reasons why the budgets in better nick but also getting good better prices for our commodities and what that means for company tax.

We haven’t changed our view about the stage three tax cuts, but we have found a way to provide substantial cost-of-living relief for people on low and middle and fixed incomes, because we recognise people are doing it tough and they’ve been our priority.