The CHF wants an urgent increase in Newstart payments for single people, saying recipients often cannot afford to access health care, including medicines
In its submission to the Senate Inquiry into the adequacy of the income support payment, the Consumers Health Forum warns of untreated illness in a population already more likely to have health conditions.
“We often speak with pride about Medicare as a universal health insurance scheme that means cost should not be a barrier to accessing health care in Australia,” the CHF writes in its submission.
“Yet this is not the reality for many people, especially those on income support payments.
“Those who are most socio-economically disadvantaged are twice as likely as those who are least disadvantaged to have a long-term health condition.
“National Health Survey data shows that Newstart allowance recipients experience a significantly increased burden of ill health compared with employed people of working age.”
The CHF cited a “particularly strong causal link” between unemployment and mental health issues, as well as heart disease related to stress from unemployment.
It also cited a 2012 study which found that if the health inequality gap was closed, there would be half a million fewer Australians with chronic illness – and 5.3 million fewer PBS scripts filled.
“Providing a small increase in income would help people to be able to prevent or self-manage some health conditions by being able to purchase over the counter medicines, high nutrient foods and exercise classes and equipment as just a few examples,” it says.
“Additionally, poor health and disability are substantial barriers to finding and maintaining employment.”
To inform the submission, CHF published a survey, hoping Newstart recipients would respond with lived experience of managing their health on the payment.
“I am unable to afford the medication I need if I have to choose between that and paying bills,” one respondent said. “I have had to stop seeing my psychologist because I could not regularly afford it, which has been very detrimental to my mental health.”
Another said, “Couldn’t afford my depression medication. A state largely brought on by my not being able to afford basic household things;” while a third said, “A skin infection got totally out of control. I did not have the cash to buy the creams”.
Another respondent said, “Luckily it isn’t my only source of income but I’m still on a tight budget and sometimes can’t afford to fill my antipsychotic prescription which costs around $150/month”.
And another said, “I haven’t seen a dentist in years. I also avoid filling scripts for antibiotics and am slowly trying to decrease my antidepressant medication to bring the cost down”.
CHF CEO Leanne Wells called the level of untreated sickness amongst recipients “disturbing”.
“For those who do not have the misfortune of having to depend on Newstart, it is probably not widely realised that so many recipients and their children are haunted by health problems the rest of us can have treated promptly,” she said.
The CHF is urging the Government to increase the Newstart singles rate by at least $75 a week, saying it is “desperately needed immediately”.