Safeguarding the future conference - Canberra, 23-24 May 2024

Why is Work Important? He Gets the Pension, Doesn’t He?

Ann Greer presented at our Let’s Get to Work Conference in 2020. Her topic was “Finding Work Through Connections and Community”. In the 3-minute video below you’ll hear her thoughts on

  • the value of work for people with disability
  • the dangerous assumptions that are sometimes made when people qualify to receive the Disability Support Pension.

There are inherent dangers in relying on the Disability Support Pension as the sole source of a person’s income. While having access to money is incredibly important, the pension can sometimes become an impediment to seeking employment.

“He doesn’t need to work because he’s got money”

To assume that “he doesn’t need to work because he’s got money” also assumes that the only reason people would ever consider going to work is to get paid.

It’s dangerous to assume that work is solely about having a source of money and, therefore, when money in the form of a pension is provided, work is unnecessary.

Paid work is an important part of many people’s lives. At work we achieve, we learn, we socialise, we belong, we work alongside others to meet the goals of our workplace. Work provides us with structure and with freedom. We might travel through our neighbourhood or across the city to get there. On the daily journey to and fro, we have the potential to meet fellow travellers, and to experience changes of season and infrastructure. We might pop into the same cafe for our morning coffee or the same supermarket for provisions for the evening meal.

And when we learn that money “doesn’t grow on trees or pop out of the walls”, we have the potential to learn skills such as money management, budgeting, and saving. We also have the opportunity to learn the value of money (and of work).

Working sometimes stimulates us to seek further education and to increase our skillset and capacity to contribute. Even the most humble of vocational or skills training offers the potential to expand our social circles and to see new pathways lighting up before us.

So while the Disability Support Pension might (partially) address the issue of having enough money to live on and enjoy life, it might prevent people with disability from experiencing all of the benefits of working.

“He can’t work”

Another dangerous assumption is that people with disability are inherently incapable of work. They are too often seen as being “unproductive” and “non-contributing” members of society. In the language of Social Role Valorisation, they may even take on the negative and diminished role of “burden”. Even the role of “pensioner” is not highly valued in our society.

Sadly, a deficit-based model of thinking is common. As Ann Greer explains, “when we focus on what people can’t do, we end up with a lot of ‘can’t do.’”

The traditional way of “supporting” people with disability is to allow a “snowball of deficits” to roll over the person, their family, and any opportunity that might appear. As Ann says, it’s a very poor model of service, and a poor model of thinking.

When people are employed, they have roles of much higher value: barista, customer service officer, technician, child care worker.

Because they work they might also become a commuter, a bike rider, a student, a classmate, a regular customer, a friend. The ability to earn money might also open opportunities to become a car owner, a housemate, a homeowner, an overseas traveller. Their presence in the community becomes familiar and expected, and their absence is noticed and a cause for concern.

The Real Value of Work

When people occupy valued work roles, they develop a sense of contribution, mastery of skills, greater confidence, positive self-image, and money to spend to achieve other good things of life (and to contribute as a taxpayer).

Access to the Disability Support Pension offers an important safety net to people with disability. You might be surprised to learn just how much you can earn before the Disability Support Pension cuts off.

But to assume that work is therefore unnecessary in the life of a person with disability is an assumption that may inadvertently prevent people with disability from enjoying the Good Life.

These are dangerous assumptions indeed.

Watch the rest of Ann’s presentation.