Brutal Workers Comp Cuts Hurt Those Trying to Get By

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

As most of us prepare for New Year's Eve celebrations, it is distressing to see the impacts of a 2012 state government decision which will see 4000 people lose their workers compensation benefits: around 1800 of these people saw their benefits brutally cut at Christmas.

These severe cuts will mean that most of those affected, who have been unable to work for a long period of time due to severe workplace injuries, will be left without adequate support. All of them will have to make significant changes to their lifestyle to manage - some may have to sell assets in order to survive and those without assets will be left to desperately find a way to pay their rent, their bills and even more seriously, basics such as food.

Injured worker Annette Thorncraft says her recovery from a serious workplace accident has been difficult. 

Many will have to turn to family or charity to survive.

The reality is that government decisions such as these, often made in isolation, have very real and grave impacts on everyday Australians merely trying to get by. The consequences may have been unforeseen or misunderstood or worse perhaps, ignored.

Whatever the case in this instance, it once again demonstrates a lack of empathy and care from government for our community's most vulnerable.

We know that those cut off from their payments are experiencing high levels of distress, depression, and anxiety. There is high-risk of self-harm, homelessness and family breakdown. We also know that the majority of people impacted by the changes have very restricted work prospects, if any. Some of them have relied on the scheme since its inception in 1987 due to severe work injuries and 54 per cent of them are 55 years of age or older. These people and their families are left in a dire situation.

This is the case of Mark. Mark was injured in his factory job and has relied on his worker's compensation payment to pay the rent on his family's unit on the South Coast, help with medical costs, and put food on the table. It is likely that Mark, who has now lost this payment, will struggle to pay the rent and support his family on the Newstart Allowance. Mark will potentially have to turn to public housing which has a waiting list of more than 60,000 people in NSW alone. His and his family's slide into homelessness is a very real and looming prospect.

All of this comes at a time when The Australia Institute has released a report that indicates that the workers' compensation scheme has had a 30 per cent reduction in payouts since 2010, and had the funds available to keep the current system in place.   Top of FormBottom of Form

With estimates of a surplus in the billions, the report states that "the system has a large and growing surplus, more than adequate to finance significant repairs in benefit levels (including protecting the thousands of injured workers about to be cut off from monthly benefits)". 

The drastic reduction in benefits is nothing short of appalling and government should surely look to urgently find practical solutions to ensure that these people continue to be supported to live a life with dignity and security.

Originally Published in The Sydney Morning Herald