The new Labor Government must waste no time in acting to reduce inequalities and disadvantage experienced by Australians with disability, according to Dr Nicola Fortune, co-author of a new report that quantifies inequalities for people with disability.
Nicola Fortune writes:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that “persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights”. This statement is certainly true for Australia today.
Australia ratified the Convention in 2008, yet people with disability in Australia continue to experience entrenched disadvantage across all areas of life and society, with damaging impacts on their health and wellbeing.
A new report by the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health (CRE-DH) presents comprehensive national data on the inequalities experienced by Australians aged 18-64 years with disability.
This Baseline Data Report uses the newly developed Disability and Wellbeing Monitoring Framework and Indicators to measure inequalities between people with and without disability across a broad range of life areas that impact health and wellbeing.
The Disability and Wellbeing Monitoring Framework was developed with input from people with disability, and the indicators reported on relate to aspects of life that are important to people with disability. For example, built environment accessibility, income, attitudes and discrimination in the workplace, social connectedness, violence and abuse, and access to health services. The Framework has 19 domains grouped under three broad headings: Health, Social determinants of health, and Service system.
The new report collates data from multiple sources to paint a picture of disability-related inequalities in Australia, and to provide a baseline for monitoring change over time.
How big are the inequalities?
Stark inequalities are evident across all domains of the Monitoring Framework. For instance, in the area of transport, 84 percent of people with disability had access to a private motor vehicle to drive, compared with 93 percent of people without disability. The disability inequality gap was greater for people with severe disability – only 72 percent had access to a vehicle.
People with disability had lower personal incomes than non-disabled people in every age group, and inequalities increased with age.
Among people aged 50-64 years, those with disability had a median weekly disposable income of $526, 40 percent less than non-disabled people ($909). In this age group, people with severe disability had a median weekly disposable income of $382, 60 percent less than people without disability. While personal income was generally lower for women than for men, income inequality between people with and without disability was greater for men than for women.
Data for indicators in the justice and safety domain showed clearly that people with disability experienced substantially higher levels of discrimination, violence and abuse than people without disability, and felt less safe in their homes and neighbourhoods.
It is well established that disadvantage in social and economic outcomes impacts people’s health. Of people with disability, about a third (35%) reported their health to be ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, compared with two-thirds of people without disability (68%). For people with severe disability, just 16 percent said their health was ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.
Among Australians aged 18-64 years, there are nearly two million people with disability – 13 percent of the population in this age group.
Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 was launched in December 2021. Its vision is “an inclusive Australian society that ensures people with disability can fulfil their potential, as equal members of the community”. The inequalities highlighted in CRE-DH Baseline Data Report make it clear that there is much work to do to achieve this vision.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has brought a sharp focus to the inequalities and rights violations experienced by people with disability across all settings and contexts within Australian society. In its final report in September 2023, the Commission will “recommend how to improve laws, policies, structures and practices to ensure a more inclusive and just society”.
Following the recent federal election outcome, the new Labor Government must waste no time in acting to reduce inequalities and disadvantage experienced by Australians with disability. The disability policy platform Labor took to the election committed to real progress on outcomes in critical life areas like employment and education, and ensuring that no Australian with disability is left behind.
Action is desperately needed to get the NDIS back on track and ensure fair and sustainable operation of the scheme.
But action on other disability policy commitments must also be prioritised by the new Government, such as increasing funding for individual and systemic advocacy, increasing the capacity of disability employment services, and putting plans and systems in place to ensure that people with disability are prioritised in future pandemic and emergency response efforts.
The Baseline Data Report highlights the need for action across all policy areas. And the imperative for action is reinforced in the context of the ongoing impacts of COVID, which threaten to increase inequalities in social, economic and health outcomes for people with disability.
Much better coordination of programs and services across State, Territory and Commonwealth government agencies, and across policy portfolios, will be essential. For example, collaborative action is needed to ensure that people with disability can easily get information on and access to the healthcare they need, including vaccinations for COVID-19 and flu, primary healthcare and disease screening, and community mental health services.
To achieve real progress on reducing employment inequalities, whole-of-government approaches are needed to address widespread discrimination, alongside reforms to Disability Employment Services to more effectively support participants to find and maintain work, including through improved access to skills training, individual capacity building, and mental health and wellbeing support.
New and more effective strategies are needed across all policy areas, and must be co-designed and co-produced by people with disability and their representative organisations.
Data crucial for accountability
Having reliable data is essential for designing more effective policies and programs to deliver better, fairer outcomes for people with disability. Measuring inequalities between people with and without disability highlights the barriers faced by people with disability in exercising their human rights, and provides key evidence to guide policy priorities.
Monitoring inequalities over time will show what progress is being made and where more effective action is needed. Crucially, monitoring and high-profile public reporting of data on inequalities is key to holding governments to account on their commitments to deliver better outcomes for people with disability.
The Baseline Data Report also highlights knowledge gaps and limitations in national data. Data are currently not available for about one quarter of the Monitoring Framework indicators. For example, no disability-disaggregated data are available on the experience of bullying or harassment, incarceration rates, or potentially preventable hospitalisations.
Ongoing data development work is needed to build a stronger evidence base to support closing the disability inequality gap.
Continued work to develop Australia’s National Disability Data Asset should be supported by the new Federal Government. In addition, Australia urgently needs a nationally agreed, consistent disability identifier for use in administrative datasets, so that routinely collected data on contact with government services and programs, and related outcomes, can be analysed by disability status.
Crucially, people with disability and their representative organisations must be involved as key drivers and decision-makers in every aspect of disability policy and data development.
• Dr Nicola Fortune is a Research Fellow with the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Disability and Health. She has extensive experience in conducting policy-relevant research, data analysis and data development in disability and health. Nicola’s current research focuses on health, social, and economic inequities experienced by people with disability.
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