ABC NewsRadio with Marius Benson – 13 October, 2014

SANDY ALOISI: (Inaudible) a review of pension recipients aged under 35 has found that 5000 people now receiving the DSP are able to work, at least 8 hours a week. For more on the impact of the pension review Marius Benson is speaking to the Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews.

MARIUS BENSON: Kevin Andrews how successful are you now in reducing the number of people relying on the Disability Support Pensions?

MINISTER ANDREWS: We are taking first steps in relation to the under 35 cohort. We are assessing them against the ability to be able to work, this was a law which had previously existed but had never been implemented properly and now we’re looking at whether or not they are capable of working at all and if they are then there’s reference been made to the job services network to assist people to get a job.

MARIUS BENSON: And are you already reducing the numbers on the DSP?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Ah yes we are in terms of the numbers being referred from 1500 people a month have now been referred to the job services network after initial assessment of some 11,000 people over about three months.

MARIUS BENSON: But it’s a very big scheme, 800,000 people receiving a DSP I think, $17 billion is the Bill that goes with that. Are you having an impact already on those numbers?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well these are small in comparison to the total number on the DSP. We are waiting for the final report of the McClure Reference Group to provide some further thoughts about how we might go about treating the DSP generally. But as you say 800,000 people on the DSP is a very large number.

MARIUS BENSON: And the extent of the reduction now again can you just clarify that?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Ah yes what we’ve done is we’ve seen about 11,000 people, and of them about 5000 people have been identified as capable of doing some work and they’re being referred to services that can help them in terms of getting a job.

MARIUS BENSON: Okay can I leave the DSP there and go more broadly to the question of poverty, which was raised particularly with an ACOSS report yesterday pointing to one in seven Australians living in poverty. Is that a number you accept?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look any number of people living in poverty is undesirable and regrettable and we have to make sure that we can particularly grow the economy so that there are more jobs out there and more ability for people to be living in circumstances which we would desire them to live in.

MARIUS BENSON: But is one in seven accurate?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look that’s an ACOSS report as I understand it; it was based on 2012 data. I haven’t had a chance at this stage to read the report so I can’t comment in detail on the accuracy of it.

MARIUS BENSON: But does the Government has a figure itself in terms of the level, the number of Australians living in poverty?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well we measure things like the number of people on the Newstart Allowance, the number of people receiving other welfare benefits. So it’s a different measure I understand to what ACOSS has used.

MARIUS BENSON: And is your number less than one in seven?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well as I said I can’t comment precisely on the ACOSS report, I’ll have a look this and my Department will obviously have a look at it in the next few days, but our concern overall is to ensure that where people are in work, they’re in work, and that way if you’re in work at all then you’re better off than not being in work, even if it’s part time. Secondly we have a safety net in terms of Newstart and other welfare payments which are indexed twice a year but in the end our job is to grow the economy, to reduce deficits, to pay off the debt and create more jobs and in that way we can raise the bar in terms of the level of prosperity for all Australians.

MARIUS BENSON: The concern expressed by ACOSS is that you’re degrading the safety net that because of the budget cuts which will obviously effect people relying on Government assistance, that more people are at risk of living in poverty, do you accept that’s a consequence of the budget cuts?

MINISTER ANDREWS: No not at all, in fact what the budget is about is ensuring that we first have an adequate safety net but secondly to do so in the context of which the whole economy is thriving, and the reality is that if the economy is doing well then more Australians are doing well then that of course reduces poverty.

MARIUS BENSON: But in the short term the effect on people relying on government services is they lose hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars in assistance. Do you believe you should review the government strategy, the budget strategy, in light of these ACOSS findings?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Not at all, the Budget strategy is one that is set on a path to actually return this country to the black and the reality is that we’re in a debt situation, we’ve had a string of deficits, and unemployment is something that we want to bring down so we can raise employment. Unless we do these things then we’re not going to be able to improve the situation overall.

MARIUS BENSON: Kevin Andrews, thank you very much.

MINISTER ANDREWS: My pleasure Marius.