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data are sourced from Department of Social Services payment demographic data (from 2014 to 2021) and from previously unpublished data constructed from Services Australia administrative data (2001 to 2013).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.

Carer Payment

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.

Trends

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.
 

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.

Impact of COVID-19

In late March 2020, short-term policy measures were introduced by the Australian Government to protect those whose income was adversely affected by the restrictions associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, while the pandemic has resulted in large increases in the number of income support recipients overall, it does not appear to have specifically affected the number of people receiving DSP or Carer Payment.

In the 12 months to March 2021, the number of DSP recipients has remained relatively steady (752,200 to 752,000), while the number of Carer Payment recipients has increased slightly (from 290,100 to 299,300). These patterns are consistent with trends observed in previous years.

The proportion of the population aged 16 and over receiving DSP or Carer Payment also remained relatively stable in the 12 months to March 2021 – 3.6% for DSP and 1.4–1.5% for Carer Payment.

Further, the proportion of DSP or Carer Payment recipients receiving earnings from other sources, or receiving a part-rate payment were relatively similar in the 12 months to March 2021. These patterns are consistent with trends observed in previous years, suggesting that the labour market measures imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 had a minimal impact on the earnings from employment for DSP or Carer Payment recipients.

For more information, see ‘Chapter 4, The impacts of COVID-19 on employment and income support in Australia’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.

Age

Recipients of DSP or Carer Payment were typically in older age groups, with 1 in 3 (33%) aged 55–64 as at 26 March 2021. A large proportion were also aged 65 and over (15%). The number aged 65 and over has increased over time, as the qualifying age of the Age Pension continues to increase.

Slightly more than 1 in 10 (12%) 55–64 year olds receive DSP or Carer Payment. People in this age group were more likely to be receiving these payments than those in younger age groups:

  • 1.6 times as likely as those aged 45–54
  • 2.6 times as likely as those aged 35–44
  • 4.1 times as likely as those aged 25–34 (Figure 2).

Sex

As at 26 March 2021, females were slightly more likely to receive DSP or Carer Payment than males (5.4% of females aged 16 and over compared with 4.8% of males aged 16 and over; Figure 2). This pattern was driven by those receiving Carer Payment (2.0% of females compared with 0.9% of males). Females accounted for 71% of Carer Payment recipients compared with 47% of DSP recipients. Males were slightly more likely to receive DSP than females (4.0% compared with 3.4%).

Indigenous Australians

As at 26 March 2021, 71,300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people received DSP or Carer Payment – 13% of the Indigenous population aged 16 and over. This compares with 4.8% of Other Australians receiving these payments.

  • The proportions receiving DSP were 10% (for the Indigenous population) and 3.4% (of the population for Other Australians) and for Carer Payment, 3.3% and 1.4%, respectively (Figure 2). 

Note that Indigenous identification in most Centrelink and population data is voluntary. This may influence the quality and completeness of the data and subsequent reporting on the number and proportion of Indigenous Australians receiving income support payments, especially among older Indigenous Australians.

Remoteness area

As at 26 March 2021, people aged 16 and over living in Inner regional and Outer regional areas were more likely to be receiving DSP or Carer Payment (7.1% and 6.9%, respectively) than those living in Major cities (4.4%), Remote areas (5.9%) or Very remote areas (5.6%) (Figure 2).
 

Primary medical condition of recipients

As at 26 March 2021, psychological or psychiatric conditions was the most commonly recorded primary medical condition for both DSP recipients aged 16 and over (36%) and care receivers of Carer Payment recipients aged 16 and over (28%).

Musculoskeletal and connective tissue conditions was also commonly recorded for DSP recipients (19%), as were intellectual and learning conditions (15%).

Earning an income while receiving income support

Means-tested arrangements are designed to ensure that income support targets those most in need, and that it reduces as recipients are more capable of providing for themselves. Recipients can earn a certain amount per fortnight before their income support payment is slowly reduced to a part-rate payment. Income support recipients are required to report income from all sources (including work, investments and/or substantial assets). 

As at 26 March 2021, for DSP or Carer Payment recipients:

  • 15% received a part-rate payment
  • 7.6% declared earnings from employment in the preceding fortnight, with almost 3 in 4 (73%) earning at least $250 in the last fortnight.

Over the last 5 years (March 2016 to March 2021), the proportion of DSP and Carer Payment recipients receiving a part-rate payment or declaring earnings fell slightly – from 17% to 15% for those receiving a part-rate payment, and from 8.3% to 7.6% for those declaring earnings.

Duration of income support

In March 2021, 82% of DSP or Carer payment recipients had been receiving an income support payment for at least 5 years, compared with 25% for those receiving other income support payments (excluding Age Pension).

As at 26 March 2021: 

  • 88% of DSP recipients had received an income support payment for 5 years or more, including 71% for 10 or more years
  • 69% of Carer Payment recipients had received an income support payment for 5 years or more, including 45% for 10 or more years.

Most DSP recipients tend to remain on this payment for long periods – 82% had received DSP for 5 years or more, including 61% for 10 years or more. Those receiving Carer Payment tended to remain on this payment for a shorter duration: 48% had received it for 5 years or more.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:

For more information on disability in Australia, see People with disability in Australia, 2020.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights. Cat. no. AUS 226. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 20 July 2021.

AIHW 2020. People with disability in Australia. Cat. no. DIS 72. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 04 February 2021.