Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Australia's Disabling Income Support System: Tracing the History of the Disability Pension from 1908 to Today

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Australia's Disabling Income Support System: Tracing the History of the Disability Pension from 1908 to Today

Article excerpt

Introduction: painting a picture of the disability policy landscape

This article draws on historical-comparative policy and discourse research to provide an account of the enduring nature of principles that marginalise recipients and perpetuate incapacity--referred to here as 'disabling principles'--underpinning the Australian disability income support system spanning the years 1908-2007 and 2008-now. Contemporary western industrial societies, such as Australia, have pursued income support policies based on a range of welfare regime types framed in terms of their welfare arrangements and ideological positions (Schroder 2009). For Australia, the disability income support system is situated within the broader political economy of the welfare state and reflects a liberal regime that is residualist, non-contributory, and conducive to needs-based entitlement.

Historically, the first Australian disability income support statutory provision for people with a disability was the Commonwealth Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act, introduced and enacted in 1908 (Bessant et al. 2006). Australia was one of the first countries to introduce a nationwide government-funded income support system for social protection (Dixon & Hyde 2000). Today, the disability pension is a targeted payment, set at a flat rate and subject to means-testing and other eligibility criteria (Bessant et al. 2006).

During the past four decades, industrialised countries including Australia have pursued reforms targeting social security arrangements and labour market programs as a means to manage rapidly changing global economic conditions and poverty (Drakeford Sc Davidson 2013; Soldatic & Pini 2013). The changes have potential consequences for people with a disability in terms of their social citizenship (Oliver 2009).

In this article, the emphasis on social protection measures centres on the understanding that welfare policy is a powerful tool that can influence and shape ideology and marginalise the very vulnerable people that the policies are supposed to support (Bessant et al. 2006). Historically, people with a disability have been 'objects of policy' through policy language and processes of income support and disability service systems.

On the global level there is a growing body of literature (Grover & Piggott 2010) related to the relationship between the disability concept and social policy. Some global and national comparative exploration of welfare state arrangements and income support provision has been undertaken (see Priestley et al. 2010; Parker Harris et al. 2012; Weston 2012). Although highly useful for understanding welfare arrangements and disability policy, these studies are limited to a descriptive account of legislative, policy and programmatic developments. Where attention has been paid to ideology, the studies remain highly contextualised and within narrow time periods.

On the national level, other research studies have similarly traced some historical developments of Australian income support or disability policy (for example, Tulloch 1979; Parker & Cass 2005; Humpage 2007; Soldatic & Pini 2013). Yet, few studies have spanned a 100-year timeframe (the notable exception is Kewley 1980) to explicate the historical and ideological assumptions that function to impact on people with disabilities.

This article traces the continuities and discontinuities of disability income support policy development and pathways across the time period 1908-2007 and the contemporary context 2008-now to examine the historical and ideological dimensions that shaped the Australian disability pension regime. The article provides new insights into the way Commonwealth authority and conservative sanctioned paternalism interacts with disablism and functions to perpetuate disabling categories over time. Commonwealth authority represents the power of the government to intervene and control people with a disability through legislation and administrative practices. …

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