Notes on the data: Income support

Disability support pensioners, June 2020


Policy context:  

People who are described as 'disability support pensioners' are those who receive either a Disability Support Pension from Centrelink or a Service Pension (Permanently Incapacitated) from the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The Disability Support Pension (DSP) provides an income to people of working age (15-64 years) whose capacity for work is restricted by disability and the Service Pension (Permanently Incapacitated) is paid to eligible veterans below pension age who are permanently incapacitated for work (the incapacity does not need to be service related).

There has been a steady increase in the number of people receiving the DSP since its introduction, however a range of changes to policy including changes to assessment processes and workforce participation requirements has seen a decrease in the number of recipients in recent years (see chart). Although the number of people on the DSP was similar to that on an unemployment benefit in 2019 (746,000 and 770,000 respectively), that changed in 2020 under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disability Support Pension and Unemployment Customer numbers, 1985 to 2019

Note: Data sourced by PHIDU from documents for the Department of Social Services and its predecessors were titled 'monthly average unemployment to 2012' and 'Newstart and Youth Allowance (other)' for 2013 and later years

Receipt of the DSP is strongly age-related, mainly because the incidence of disability rises with age [1]. In 2019, 2.6% of people aged 16 to 20 received DSP, but this rose with age to 10.4% of people aged 25 to 34, 23.4% of people aged 45-54 and 35.8% of people aged 55-64 years [2]. Disability rises further with increasing age over 65 years, but after 65, most people are entitled to an Age Pension and the DSP is currently no longer relevant [3].


  1. Whiteford P. The rise and fall of "welfare dependency" in Australia. Melbourne: Brotherhood of St Laurence; 2013.
  2. Department of Social Services. DSS Demographics June 2019. Available from:, last accessed 11 November 2019
  3. Parliamentary Budget Office. Disability Support Pension: Historical and projected trends - report no. 01/2018. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia, 2018.

Notes:  People eligible for a Disability Support Pension (DSP) paid by the Department of Human Services (DHS), must be aged 16 years or over and have not reached age-pensionable age; be permanently blind or have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment level of 20% or more and a continuing inability to work for at least 15 hours per week.

Additional notes

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) provides a Disability Pension to eligible people. However, these data were not available to include in this release for data at June 2020. In 2017 there were 96,856 people receiving the DVA Disability Pension.

Data cells with counts of less than five were suppressed (confidentialised). Therefore, the figures can be undercounted by up to 4 people if one of the cells at the SA2 level comprising a PHA or LGA is confidentialised. Data in the ‘Unknown’ data row in the Excel data workbooks are calculated from the difference between the sum of the PHA or LGA data to the State/Territory totals and include the sum of these suppressed cells.


Geography: Data available by Population Health Area, Local Government Area, Primary Health Network, Quintile and Remoteness Area


Numerator:  People in receipt of a Disability Support Pension from the Department of Human Services or a Service Pension (Permanently Incapacitated) from the Department of Veterans' Affairs at June 2020


Denominator:  People aged 16 to 64 years at June 2020


Detail of analysis:  Per cent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on data from the Department of Social Services, June 2020; and PHIDU estimated population, 30 June 2020.


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