El Gibbs writes:
The newly returned Morrison Government has, rightly, named the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), as one of their key priorities for this term, naming Stuart Robert as the Minister for the NDIS.
A myriad of issues with the current NDIS rollout requires urgent attention to ensure that the scheme will deliver on its promise for people with disability across Australia.
In addition, there needs to be a focus on the wider National Disability Strategy, and how to make sure that people with disability who aren’t eligible for the NDIS are not left with no services or supports at all.
No more gaps
The NDIS was designed to fix a broken, underfunded and deeply unfair disability support system that was predicted to costs state, territory and the federal government huge amounts if it wasn’t reformed.
The scheme was intended to provide a national, uniform system of individualised support that would end the lottery of support that depended on how you got your disability and where you lived.
Previously, if I was hit by a car in one state, I could get more support than if I had the exact same disability from falling off a ladder. If I had support in one state, but needed to move, I would not be able to get the same supports, and would often have to wait for years all over again.
The NDIS is meant to mean that everyone who needs it, can get support, no matter the cause or the type of disability they have, in all parts of Australia.
At the same time, the block funded, one-size-fits-no-one model of support was to end, giving individuals more choices about what their support looked like. People with disability would have some say about what kinds of support they got, rather than having to squeeze into narrow eligibility criteria for a specific support program.
The 10 percent who need most support
But the NDIS was never intended to be everything, nor to be the only supports available for people with disability. The scheme was always intended to cover, at most, the 10 percent of us who needed the most support.
State and territory disability services were meant to continue, particularly for people with disability with episodic support needs. As I’ve said before:
Much existing disability support funding is being rolled into the NDIS, leaving gaps in the progress towards equality for people with disability.
This just reinforces the belief that people with disability aren’t welcome in the rest of society. We only get to be over there, in the special NDIS place. This is hardly progress.”
Most mainstream services aren’t accessible for many of us. Housing, education, health and transport can be downright hostile to our disabled selves, preferring to segregate us or exclude us altogether.
There is much work to do for us to be fully included, which is intended to be the role of the National Disability Strategy, not the NDIS. But the supports of the NDIS are vital for us to be able to participate at all.
Connecting up these disparate elements of our national systems is a key role for the NDIS, and for the new Minister.
What role can the National Disability Insurance Agency play in leading significant reform across all the levels of government to make sure that people with disability no longer are excluded? How can we make sure that people with disability aren’t falling through growing gaps in support?
Who is in control?
The NDIS is about us, and should be run by us. People with disability from across the community have called for the next CEO of the NDIS to be one of us.
Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, says: “It’s only people with disability who have a deep understanding of our lives, the issues we are facing so this gives the Government the opportunity to reset the culture of the agency and bring the agency back to what the scheme was set out to deliver.”
Christina Ryan, CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, says: “Having a CEO with disability is fundamentally about being able to trust that the NDIS is working with us and for us.”
PWDA has also called for 51 percent of NDIS staff to be people with disability, for stronger staff training on disability rights, on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and on the social model of disability.
Every Australian Counts says that: “people with disability must be in the driver’s seat. It is their experience and their views that must determine priorities and drive change.”
Who gets support
There are significant inequalities emerging in who gets NDIS, and then how much support people with the same needs are allocated.
Women with disability, people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are getting fewer packages, and less funding than other people with disability. PWDA says that:
- women are only 38 percent of participants
- people from CALD backgrounds are 7.7 percent of participants, despite a stated NDIA goal of 20 per cent CALD participants
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 5.4 percent of participants or about 9,000, despite around 60,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia having a severe or profound disability.
First Peoples Disability Network says there needs to be investment “to create an Aboriginal Community Controlled Disability Service Sector for the provision of disability supports by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability for their communities.”
In addition, people with disability from rural, regional and remote areas are finding significant gaps in available services, even if they have enough funding.
The recent decision by Australian Unity to stop providing NDIS services will add to this big issue.
What’s the best way to make sure people with disability outside of major cities have the same access to services? What can the NDIS learn from other national service delivery systems?
How it all works
Many people with disability report huge delays – in getting their plans done in the first place, in getting any reviews done, and then in getting aids and equipment and home modifications, for example.
Some of these delays are due to the staffing cap in the NDIA, where limited resources and a reliance on contractors means the Agency hasn’t been able to expand to meet the increasing workload, and isn’t developing the necessary expertise internally to provide consistent, transparent decisions.
The Government has started to lift the staffing cap, but this needs to be removed altogether. As Sara Gingold writes: “If the Government is serious about its commitment to addressing problems in the NDIS, then the staffing cap will be an issue they just can’t ignore.”
Key reforms to the planning process have been started, with three-year plans, a single point of contact and more resources going to people with disability who aren’t accessing the NDIS. The Federal Government committed in the election to an “NDIS Participant Service Guarantee” as well as a new Community Connectors Program.
One of the other key issues is with the IT system, which doesn’t have the flexibility or the responsiveness needed for either people with disability or for the system as a whole.
Last year’s Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS’ inquiry into ICT said: “It is clear that a lot of administrative burden and additional transaction costs would have been avoided if the NDIA had initially collaborated with end-users to design and improve the website and the portals.”
One of the plans to fix this, using artificial intelligence and strong co-design with people with disability, was shelved with no sign of being revived.
Getting the NDIS right is so important for people with disability to be able to have a chance at an equal and ordinary life.
But it’s also going to be important for the Federal Government to provide leadership on how to include all people with disability, not just those eligible for the NDIS.
The next stage of the National Disability Strategy, the National Disability Agreement, and reform of the Disability Discrimination Act all need to be on the agenda, along with employment, transport, housing and legal issues.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability will expose systemic levels of violence against people with disability, and will also need a government and policy response to ensure that we can be free of violence.
Australia’s immigration system continues to discriminate against migrants with disability, splitting up families and saying that people with disability are too much of a burden on our system. This needs to change.
People with disability are up to 20 percent of Australia’s population, and it’s well past time that we were fully included, supported and welcomed.
• El Gibbs is the Director, Media and Communications, People with Disability Australia.