The 2019 Australian Conference of Economists is taking place in Melbourne from July 14 to 16.
During the conference The Conversation is publishing a selection of articles by the authors of papers being delivered at the conference. Others are here.
The Disability Support Pension is important in the lives of the Australians who receive it. The latest figures show that’s 4% of the working age population.
Yet a huge proportion of claims for it are rejected. Over the four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15 the average “grant rate” was 43%, meaning 57% of claims were rejected.
The largest non-medical reason given for rejection is failure to supply the requested information, accounting for one in eight rejections.
In a paper to be presented to the Australian Conference of Economists in Melbourne on Tuesday I examine the extent to which that is due to a specific kind of disability – an inability to properly complete the form.
Does form-filling matter?
The Bureau of Statistics survey of disability, ageing and carers provides rich data the on employment, socio-demographic characteristics and health conditions of disabled Australians, including the extent to which they have assistance with reading and writing.
One question is
do/does you/he/she receive assistance from any organised services to help with reading and writing tasks?
do/does you/he/she receive assistance from anyone else, such as a partner or spouse/parent, family, friends or neighbours to help with reading and writing tasks?
I combined the answers to these questions to create a yes/no answer to the broader question of whether or not an applicant for the Disability Support Pension obtained help with reading and writing from any source.
Confidentialised unit record files from 2003, 2009 and 2015 gave me data on 18,141 disabled Australians between the ages of 16 to 64.
Help with reading does matter…
I found that reading and writing assistance is associated with an increase of about 20% in the probability of getting the Disability Support Pension.
Most of that reading and writing support comes from informal sources (family, friends and neighbours) rather than formal ones.
And it seems to be more than an association. Using statistical techniques to set aside the impact of other things that might be driving the effect, I find that the impact of help with literacy is even greater.
Ideally, help shouldn’t have much impact, but the claim form for the Disability Support Pension is 33 pages long.
The government has introduced new assessment tables in a legitimate and successful attempt to restrain the growth of the Disability Support Pension.
But there can be no case for (unintentionally) using complexity as another means of restraining growth in use of the pension.
…we should be taking it mainstream
The strong positive impact of the reading assistance that has been available builds a case for providing more of it, through formal means, to ensure that fewer people are deterred from applying for benefits for which they are eligible.
Greater formal provision of help would also ease the pressure on informal helpers, making it easier for them to stay in the workforce and improving their emotional well-being.
This finding has implications for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for which reading and writing is even more important to navigate. The NDIS emphasises individual choices, making the application process particularly complex.
Disability with paperwork should not be a barrier to receiving disability benefits.