Notes on the data: Income support

Disability support pensioners, June 2017


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 requirments has seen a decrease in the number of DSP recipients. For close to a decade, the proportion of working age people receiving the DSP was relatively stable (5.3% at June 2004 to 5.5% at June 2012) [1], however, DSP recipients as a share of the working age population declined in recent years to 4.7% in 2016-17; similar to levels in 1998-1999 [2]. In 2016-17, there were about 760,000 DSP recipients in Australia [3].

Receipt of the DSP is strongly age-related, mainly because the incidence of disability rises with age [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [2].


  1. Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS). Social security trends: snapshot - April 2014. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ACOSS; 2014.
  2. Parliamentary Budget Office. Disability Support Pension: Historical and projected trends - report no. 01/2018. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia, 2018
  3. Whiteford P. The rise and fall of "welfare dependency" in Australia. Melbourne: Brotherhood of St Laurence; 2013.
  4. Department of Social Services. DSS Demographics June 2019. Available from:, last accessed 11 November 2019

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 ‘Unknown’ data row found in the excel data workbooks are calculated from the difference between the sum of the SLA data to the State/Territory totals, and include the sum of these confidentialised data.

PHA data may be the sum of freely available SA2 data if the publication of PHA data could reveal the value of confidentialised cells at the SA2 level. For these indicators, the number of people receiving this payment may be undercounted by up to four persons.


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


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 2017


Denominator:  People aged 16 to 64 years at June 2017


Detail of analysis:  Per cent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on data from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Veterans' Affairs, June 2017; and ABS Estimated Resident Population, 30 June 2017.


© PHIDU This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia licence.