Many Australians, including those with disability or carers of people with disability, require government welfare assistance to meet their everyday costs of living. When these payments are a person’s primary source of income they are called an ‘income support payment’, which is a specific category of social security payments. Australian social security payment policy is administered by the Department of Social Services, and income support payments are delivered by the Department of Human Services through its network of Centrelink offices. Payments are targeted to individuals who do not have the means to support themselves.

These Centrelink payments support working-age people who have employment restrictions due to disability or are caring for someone with disability, a severe medical condition or who are frail-aged. Recipients of these payments are encouraged to participate in employment where they have capacity to and can gain from the benefits of working, including improved wellbeing. Carer Payment recipients, for example, can engage in employment or study for up to 25 hours per week (including travel time), and remain eligible for payment. These payments are an important part of a larger network of services and assistance designed to improve the wellbeing of Australians.

This page focuses on people aged 18–64 receiving Disability Support Pension (DSP) or Carer Payment. Data are sourced from the Department of Human Services administrative data and exclude recipients aged under 18. People aged 65 and over receiving these payments are covered in Income support payments for older people. Information on government expenditure on these payments are included in Welfare expenditure.

As at 29 June 2018, 908,200 adults aged 18–64 received DSP or Carer Payment, equating to 5.9% of the population aged 18–64. Of these:

  • 75% received DSP (680,300 or 4.4% of the population aged 18–64)
  • 25% received Carer Payment (227,800 or 1.5% of the population aged 18–64).

Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment

DSP: is a means-tested income support payment for people aged 16 and over but under age pension age (at claim) who have a reduced capacity to work because of impairment. This includes those who are: permanently blind; unable to work for 15 hours or more per week for the next 2 years due to their disability or medical condition; unable, as a result of impairment, to undertake training that would equip them for work within the next 2 years.

Carer Payment: is a means-tested income support payment for people providing constant care for someone with a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability or severe medical condition. The carer cannot support themselves through substantial paid employment because of their caring role. People receiving this payment are also eligible for other allowances and supplements, such as the Carer Allowance (income testing for eligibility introduced September 2018), annual Carer Supplement and annual Child Disability Assistance payment. Carer Allowance and Carer Supplement are not reported on this page.

Trends

Overall, the number of people aged 18–64 receiving DSP or Carer Payment increased by 35% over the last 2 decades—from 672,700 in 2001 to 908,200 in 2018 (as at end June in each year). The rate of increase varied for women and men (81% for women; 5% for men). In 2001, 1.5 times as many men received DSP or Carer Payment as women (408,100 and 264,600 respectively). By 2018, the number of women who received DSP or Carer Payment was higher than for men—478,600 and 429,600 respectively (Figure 1).

When accounting for population growth, the proportion of the population aged 18–64 receiving DSP or Carer Payment remained relatively stable. Proportions increased slightly between 2001 and 2014 (5.6% to 6.8%) and declined thereafter to 5.9% in 2018.  

Between 2001 and 2018, the number of:

  • DSP recipients aged 18–64 increased overall by 10% (616,400 to 680,300), peaking in 2012 at 793,900 and falling in 2018 to 680,300 (14% decline between 2012 and 2018). The proportion of the 18–64 population receiving DSP remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2014 (5.1 to 5.3%) and declined thereafter to 4.4% in 2018.
  • Carer Payment recipients aged 18–64 increased 4-fold (56,300 to 227,800). The rate of increase was slower between 2014 and 2018 than in previous years, with a 9.0% increase over this period. The proportion of the population aged 18–64 receiving the Carer Payment increased from 0.5% in 2001 to 1.4% to 1.5% from 2014 onwards (Figure 1).

See 'Chapter 3 Income support over the past 20 years' in Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights for more long-term trends.

Age

Recipients of DSP or Carer Payment (aged 18–64) are typically in older age groups, with more than half (53%) aged 50–64.

Just over 1 in 10 (11%) 50–64-year-olds receive DSP or Carer Payment. People in this age group are far more likely to be receiving these payments than those in younger age groups—1.8 times as likely to receive DSP or Carer Payment as those aged 40–49 and 3.4 times as likely as those aged 25–39, as at 29 June 2018 (Figure 2).

Sex

Overall, women aged 18–64 were slightly more likely to receive DSP or Carer Payment than men in the same age group (6.1% compared with 5.6%, as at 29 June 2018; Figure 2). This pattern was driven by those receiving Carer Payment (2.1% of women compared with 0.9% for men). Women accounted for 71% of Carer Payment recipients compared with 47% of DSP recipients. Men were slightly more likely to receive DSP than women (4.7% compared with 4.1% respectively).

Indigenous Australians

As at 29 June 2018, 61,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 18–64 received DSP or Carer Payment. This equates to 14% of the Indigenous population aged 18–64 receiving these payments, compared with 5.6% for Other Australians (11% compared with 4.2% for DSP and 3.4% compared with 1.4% for Carer Payment; Figure 2). 

After taking into account the differences in the age structures between Indigenous and Other Australians, Indigenous Australians were 3.1 times as likely as Other Australians to receive DSP and 2.7 times as likely to receive Carer Payment.

Remoteness area

As at 29 June 2018, people aged 18–64 living in Inner regional and Outer regional areas were more likely to be receiving DSP or Carer Payment (8.7% and 8.5% respectively) than those living in Major cities (5.0%), Remote areas (7.0%), or Very remote areas (6.1%) (Figure 2).  

Primary medical condition

As at 29 June 2018, psychological or psychiatric conditions were the most common recorded primary medical condition for DSP recipients aged 18–64 (36%) and carer receivers of those aged 18–64 receiving Carer Payment (31%). Musculoskeletal and connective tissue conditions were also frequently reported (20% for DSP recipients and 21% for care receivers), and intellectual and learning conditions (15% for DSP recipients and 10% for care receivers).

Earning an income while receiving income support

Individuals who report income from work, investments, superannuation, and/or substantial assets, may have their benefit payments reduced to a part-rate payment. This income test is designed so at low incomes individuals will not have their benefit payments reduced, but once their income increases past a threshold, their payment will decrease. Income support recipients are required to report earnings from all sources.

For recipients aged 18–64 receiving DSP or Carer Payment as at 29 June 2018:

  • almost 1 in 6 (16%) received a part-rate payment
  • less than 1 in 10 (8.9%) declared earnings.  

Duration of income support

People receiving DSP or Carer Payment tend to be long-term income support recipients, with the vast majority aged 18–64 (81%) receiving income support for at least 5 years. The corresponding proportion for those in the same age group receiving all other income support payments was 32%.

For those aged 18–64 receiving DSP or Carer Payment as at 29 June 2018: 

  • 87% of DSP recipients had received income support for at least 5 years, including 65% for 10 or more years
  • 64% of Carer Payment recipients had received income support for at least 5 years, including 36% for 10 or more years

The vast majority of DSP recipients aged 18–64 at 29 June 2018 had been in receipt of this payment for at least 5 years—81% remained on DSP for 5 or more years, including 50% for 10 or more years. The duration on Carer Payment tended to be shorter than for DSP with 31% of recipients having been on this payment for 2 to less than 5 years and 40% for 5 or more years.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Recipients of Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment, people aged 18–64, 2001 to 2018

The proportion of Australian men aged 18–64 receiving Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment decreased between 2001 and 2008 (from 6.7% to 6.5%), and then remained relatively stable until 2014 before decreasing to 5.6% in 2018. The proportion of Australian women aged 18–64 receiving disability related income support payments increased between 2001 and 2014 (from 4.4% to 7.0%), and then declined to 6.1% in 2018.

Figure 2: Proportion of people aged 18–64 receiving Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment, by sex, age, Indigenous Status and remoteness area, as at 29 June 2018

At 29 June 2018, 5.9% of the Australian population aged 18–64 were receiving Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment. The proportion was highest among 50-64 year-olds (11%), those living in inner and outer regional areas (8.7% and 8.5%, respectively), and Indigenous Australians (14%).