Australia’s social security system, administered by the Department of Social Services, aims to support people who cannot, or cannot fully, support themselves, by providing targeted payments and assistance. When this payment is a person’s primary source of income it is called an ‘income support payment’ – a specific category of social security payments (see Income and income support for more information).
In 2018, there were an estimated 4 million (or 20%) people aged 15 and over in Australia with disability, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. Government pensions and allowances are just one form of financial support available to people with disability and their carers. See Specialised supports for people with disability for further details on other services and assistance available to people with disability.
Of the 427,600 people aged 15–64 with severe or profound disability (who sometimes or always need help with daily activities), more than 2 in 3 (69%) of those with an income received a government pension or allowance as their main source of income in 2018 (AIHW 2020).
This page examines the main income support payments available for people with disability and their carers – Disability Support Payment and Carer Payment. It presents information on those receiving either payment, and for each specific payment.
- Unless otherwise stated, income support data are sourced from Department of Social Services payment demographic data (from 2014 to 2021) and from previously unpublished data constructed from Services Australia administrative data (2001 to 2013).
- Information on government expenditure on these payments is included in Welfare expenditure.
- Information on this page is based on the latest available data (March 2021) at the time of finalising this snapshot in mid-July 2021. More recent data (June 2021) released in August 2021 has been briefly mentioned in the trends analysis.
Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment
Disability Support Pension
The DSP is a means-tested income support payment for people aged 16 and over – but under Age Pension age (at claim) – who have reduced capacity to work because of their disability. This includes those who:
- are permanently blind
- have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric condition resulting in functional impairment that makes them unable to work for 15 hours or more per week for the next 2 years
- are unable, because of impairment, to undertake a training activity that would equip them for work within the next 2 years.
DSP recipients are encouraged to participate in employment where they have the capacity to, and can gain from the benefits of working, including improved wellbeing. On reaching Age Pension age, those already on DSP may remain on it.
For more information, see DSP – qualification & payability, Disability Support Pension – participation requirements, Disability Support Pension and Disability Support Pension – payment rates.
The Carer Payment is a means-tested income support payment for people providing constant care for someone who:
- has physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability
- has a severe medical condition
- is frail aged.
This payment is for those who, due to their caring responsibilities, are unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment. Carer Payment recipients can engage in employment or study for up to 25 hours per week (including travel time) and remain eligible for payment. A small number of Carer Payment recipients are aged under 16 (17 in March 2021). These carers are included in calculating the proportion of Carer Payment recipients aged 16 and over in the population, to ensure consistency in recipient numbers reported on this page.
For more information on payment rates, see Carer Payment – How much can you get?
People receiving Carer Payment may also be eligible for the Carer Allowance (for which income testing for eligibility was introduced in September 2018), and the annual Carer Supplement. Carer Allowance recipients caring for a child may also be eligible for the annual Child Disability Assistance Payment. These allowances and supplements are not reported on this page.
How many people receive Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment?
As at 26 March 2021, 1.05 million people received DSP or Carer Payment in Australia, equating to 5.1% of the population aged 16 and over. Of these:
- 72% received DSP (752,000 or 3.6% of the population aged 16 and over)
- 28% received Carer Payment (299,300 or 1.5% of the population aged 16 and over).
As well, there were 394,400 income support recipients who, due to an impairment, had a reduced capacity to work fewer than 30 hours per week. These recipients have reduced mutual obligation requirements – that is, to be looking for work or engaging in activities that will help them find work in the future. This affects payments such as the JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment Single and Youth Allowance (other) Payment.
See Unemployment and parenting income support payments for further details.
The number of DSP or Carer Payment recipients increased overall by 54% over the last 2 decades, from 683,600 in June 2001 to 1.05 million in June 2021. Over this period, the number of female recipients more than doubled (from 268,300 to 563,600) while the rate of increase was slower for males (18% increase from 415,300 to 489,500) (Figure 1). This increase has been driven by the growth in Carer Payment recipients over this period (from 57,800 to 299,300), influenced by the large increase in the number of informal carers over this period as well as key policy changes, including the increased qualifying age for Age Pension and closure of various payments and allowances that were primarily paid to women (AIHW 2019).
The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving DSP or Carer Payment has remained around 5–6% over the last 2 decades, reflecting that increases in DSP or Carer Payment recipients have been broadly in line with population growth over this period (37% increase). Proportions increased slightly between June 2001 and June 2012 (from 4.5% to 5.7%) before declining slightly each year to June 2017 and then remaining relatively stable at 5.1–5.2% through to June 2021.
The slight reduction in the proportion of DSP or Carer Payment recipients since 2012 is largely driven by a decline in the number of DSP recipients – falling from 4.6% to 3.7% of the population aged 16 and over between June 2012 and June 2021. This downward trend coincides with an increase in the proportion of Newstart Allowance recipients assessed as having a partial capacity to work – from 26% to 42% between 2014 and 2019.
See People with disability in Australia 2020 – income support for further details on the policy changes affecting trends in DSP.
Meanwhile, the proportion of Carer Payment recipients aged 16 and over has increased gradually over the last decade from 1.1% to 1.5% between 2011 and 2021, following a rapid increase in the decade to 2010 (from 0.4% to 1.0% between 2001 and 2010).
For further information on the long-term trends of DSP and Carer Payment, see ‘Chapter 3, Income support over the past 20 years’ in Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights.