Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payments for Carers) Bill 2018 - Second Reading
20 June, 2018
Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan—Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) (18:55): I thank the previous speaker, the member for Franklin, for her words of support and the support of the opposition for the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment for Carers) Bill 2018. Australia's welfare system is based on targeting those Australians who cannot support themselves. The carer payment, the age pension and family benefits are all subject to an income test. This bill ensures government financial support is provided to those who need it most. Targeting payments keeps our welfare system strong and sustainable into the future. This bill is to introduce an income test for carer allowance and for the carer allowance (child) health care card only.
Every day, around 2.7 million Australians care for someone who needs extra help due to disability, age, mental illness or long-term physical illness. In 2017-18, the government expects to spend $8.5 billion on payments for carers. This includes $5.4 billion on carer payment, $1.7 billion on carer allowance for those caring for an adult and almost $600 million for those caring for a child. Unlike most other social security payments, which are income tested and targeted to those most in need, there is currently no income test associated with carer allowance. Carer allowance is an income supplement for people who provide daily care and attention in a private home to a person with a disability or severe medical condition. The current payment is $127.10 per fortnight.
Carers caring for a child under 16 years with disability or a medical condition get a health care card for that child with their carer allowance. Those caring for children under 16 years who do not provide the qualifying level of care required for carer allowance but who provide at least 14 hours of care a week are provided with a health care card in the name of the child.
There is currently no assessment of financial need to qualify for carer allowance and the carer allowance health care card. This bill will introduce an income test with a high threshold of $250,000 per annum to both carer allowance and carer allowance (child) health care card from 20 September 2018. The $250,000 per annum income limit will apply to both singles and couples. The income test will be a fixed limit with no indexation. From 20 September 2018, eligibility for the carer allowance payment and the carer allowance health care card will be restricted to carers whose own income and that of their partner's, if applicable, is below $250,000. This will be based on adjusted taxable income from the previous financial year. The income test will apply to new recipients and those who are receiving carer allowance or who have a child health care card only on 20 September 2018.
Carer allowance adjusted taxable income, or ATI, includes taxable income, employer provided fringe benefits, foreign income, net investment loss, reportable superannuation contributions, tax-free superannuation income, tax-free pension or benefit, and paid parental leave income. It will exclude deductible child maintenance expenditure. Income from long-term financial assets will also be included in the income test for people who receive tax-free income streams. Around 6,500 carer allowance recipients will be affected by income testing in the 2018-19 financial year, because their own income combined with that of their partner's, where applicable, is more than $250,000. An estimated 400 people with a carer allowance (child) health care card only will be affected by the income test. To put this in perspective, as at September 2017, 608,873 people received a carer allowance; 16,579 people received a carer allowance (child) health care card only; and 264,157 people received carer payment.
As we announced earlier this year, the Australian government will invest all of the $85.6 million raised through this measure to introduce a range of new early-intervention and tailored services to ensure carers get early support to manage the stress their role places on them. Getting help early through support services can make a big difference to a carer's life. It can help to reduce emotional or physical strain, and assist carers to stay in work or study, take breaks from caring responsibilities and help plan for the future.
Carers Australia, the peak body for carers, worked with the government as part of a two-year consultative process to design a new and improved model to deliver support services for carers. The integrated carer support service will provide a national integrated approach to service provision for carers, as opposed to the current fragmented system. The introduction of the integrated carer support service represents the biggest reform for carers in more than a decade. It will consist of an expansion to the Carer Gateway website from October 2018, which will enable carers to access new digital services such as peer support, counselling and coaching.
From September 2019, the government will establish a network of regional delivery partners across Australia to provide carers with access to new and improved local services such as information and advice, needs assessment, targeted financial support, counselling and coaching, and crisis support where required. The introduction of the integrated carer support service over the next two years forms the third and final stage of the Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services. The plan reflects the Australian government's priority to recognise, support and sustain the vital work of unpaid carers, as well as support the government's current investment in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Welfare expenditure on carers in the form of payments and services is an important part of the Australian welfare system. In addition to the $8.5 billion the government expects to spend on payments to carers in 2017-18, the government will also provide around $162 million for the delivery of programs and services that assist and support carers. The government recognises the very significant contribution carers make to the lives of the people for whom they care and to the broader community. The need for carers is increasing, so it is essential we get the balance right in the welfare system between financial support and availability of services. Both must remain sustainable into the future.
We all value the immense contribution carers make to our community, and we understand the challenges they face in helping others in their homes and in their communities. The introduction of a generous threshold for income testing the carer allowance makes the introduction of these new services possible. This bill allows the government to provide financial assistance to those who most need it and increase support services for carers in need. I commend the bill to the House.