Dead ends: how our social security system is failing people with partial capacity to work

Karen Soldatic, Dina Bowman, Maria Mupanemunda & Patrick McGee

Almost one-third of JobSeeker Payment recipients are people assessed with 'partial capacity to work'.

At a glance

The growing group of people on JobSeeker Payment who are deemed to have ‘partial capacity to work’ reflects a decade of changes to tighten eligibility and assessment for social security payments, especially the Disability Support Pension. 

The impact on many people with disability and/or chronic health conditions has been severe. They face an uncertain future, with inadequate income support and little prospect of gaining employment in a competitive labour market. Enabling economic security for these vulnerable people requires reforms across intersecting areas including the social safety net and employment assistance.

Dive deeper

The partial capacity to work category illustrates how the social security system fails many vulnerable individuals, due to design faults that create poverty traps.

This report examines the development of this classification and its impact on the lives of individuals and their households. It considers the onerous processes involved in applying and for the Disability Support Pension, and the economic and social costs of having to live instead on the much lower JobSeeker Payment with extra obligations. It also points to structural barriers facing people with disability and/or chronic health conditions in seeking employment.

It recommends urgent policy changes in intersecting systems – especially social security and employment assistance – to enable people who cannot work full-time due to disability or ill health to gain economic security and live with dignity.

This research was supported through a generous donation to BSL from ANZ. The authors of the report are from Western Sydney University (Karen Soldatic); BSL (Dina Bowman and Maria Mupanemunda); and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) (Patrick McGee).


Co-author Dina Bowman discussed the issues and what needs to change with a panel of experts:

  • Professor Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
  • Associate Professor Karen Soldatic, Western Sydney University
  • Natasha Thomson, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Donna Flood, Solicitor, Welfare Rights Centre NSW

The webinar was recorded on 28 September 2021.

Last updated on 14 December 2021



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