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History repeating in lacklustre NDIS regime



The latest underspend of the NDIS budget has reached the eye-popping amount of $4.6 billion. Four point bloody six billion dollars not getting to disabled people around the country. This was an increase from last year, when the total amount not spent on disabled people hit $2.5 billion. This is getting worse, not better.

Two women in forest, one leans her head on the other's shoulder (Photo by Johner Images / Getty)Every single one of these dollars is a dollar not getting to disabled people. Every single dollar represents change not being delivered. Every single dollar is a door being closed, a phone call not being answered, a disabled person not getting what they need.

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), instead of being the driver of change for disabled people across Australia, is in danger of becoming an echo of the previous system of underfunded service providers focused on making sure those pesky disabled people don't get anything much at all.

Why is there such a big underspend? There are many drivers, but a couple stand out. The first is fears that the costs of the NDIS will swallow the entire federal budget. Moving disability supports from the hidden, fragmented state and territory schemes, to a highly visible national one, brought a focus on how much our supports cost that hadn't existed before. Each year, the federal budget process gets far more attention than the equivalent state budgets, and so the federalised costs of disability suddenly appear huge.

These fears mean the focus of the NDIS is on getting disabled people to prove, over and over again, that they need what they need, rather than allowing us focus on how to live a good life, with access to what we need to do that. Reports, costing thousands of dollars to disabled people, are required for every bit of equipment and the NDIA fights disabled people over small amounts, scared of setting any kind of precedent such as people getting access to such luxuries as help to swallow, or transport to see friends, which non-disabled people can do every day.

This fear of the cost of the NDIS means that it is often talked about as the '$22b NDIS'. The Productivity Commission was asked to look at this whole question in 2017 and found that NDIS costs were tracking as per the original estimates.

But these costs aren't the whole picture. There isn't 22 billion new dollars suddenly being spent on fancy and unneeded disability supports such as yoga and ponies. Instead, existing state and territory disability support funding was transferred to the Commonwealth, this year totalling $9 billion, as well as 'in-kind' supports.


"Many of those old elements of the disability support system are being recreated anew — the delays, the inequities, and the lack of choice for many disabled people."


The additional funding has meant that of the 298,816 people with NDIS plans to 30 June 2019, there were 99,537 disabled people receiving support who previously didn't get anything at all. And it means that those getting NDIS plans, in theory, are getting what they actually need, instead of trying to fit into the particular funding box criteria that is available.

There are also other disabled people who used to receive supports under previous systems that aren't eligible for the NDIS, particularly people with chronic illness and psychosocial disability.

In addition, a key driver of the underspend is the staffing cap imposed on the NDIA at the same time that the NDIS is growing strongly. This lack of staff means that access to the scheme is delayed and plans aren't reflecting what disabled people need. Equipment takes forever to be approved, leaving disabled people without what was promised — an end to these kinds of damaging delays and problems which were such a feature of the old system.

So much appears to be getting forgotten about how and why the NDIS came into being, both by the NDIA and by those talking about it, without much accuracy.

The campaign aimed to get the NDIS focused on fairness, and its corollary — unfairness. The disability support system was broken, underfunded and created deep inequities, so the story went. Disabled people, and their families, talked openly about private matters, telling the nation how rarely they could shower, or stealing essential supplies, or not getting enough support hours to be able to go to work.

Their stories came together in the Productivity Inquiry into disability support. This initial report named a couple of fundamentals about what would become the NDIS that appear to be increasingly ignored. The introduction of a new disability support system was needed to alleviate the future costs of the old system which was increasingly expensive, not working, and not serving the needs of disabled people.

The NDIS was intended to fix some of these problems. Disabled people would have more choice and control, with funding going directly to them instead of to disability services. The NDIS was to be national, so that a disabled person could theoretically have the same access to services in Hobart as in Sydney, or, like Max, move back home. And there would be an increase in funding to actually start to meet the real needs in the community, and end the misery of competing for scarce resources.

Instead, many of those old elements of the disability support system are being recreated anew — the delays, the inequities, and the lack of choice for many disabled people. In addition, a new stultifying layer of bureaucracy has been laid on top, with mystifying hoops to jump through to even get access to the essential supports disabled people need.

This is so far from what the original Productivity Commission report envisaged for the NDIA. They saw the agency becoming a place that promoted opportunities for disabled people and generally became a champion for disabled people across the community, as well as providing individualised support packages.

The size of the NDIS underspend says that things need to change, and they need to change now to fulfil the promise of the NDIS, and to ensure that disabled people have what they need to have a shot at being included in Australia.



El GibbsEl Gibbs is a freelance writer specialising in the area of disability and social services and has over 15 years experience in the community and NFP sector, as well as politics. Find her on Twitter @bluntshovels.

Main image: Photo by Johner Images / Getty

Topic tags: El Gibbs, disability, NDIS



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Existing comments

Thanks El for a strong and clear article. Such a worthy vision - such an injustice in its implementation.

Anne | 03 October 2019  

Yes we have found out that the NDIA is reducing the amounts that people are receiving for their packages this year, no doubt so that the government can put the savings towards reducing their sacred non-deficit. We are asked to repeat the application every year, as though someone who has autism is suddenly going to be cured. What rubbish!

Frank S | 03 October 2019  

I also would like to see an inquiry into the amount of money being taken out of NDIS by unscrupulous private providers

Sheelah Egan | 03 October 2019  

The NDIA, for us, is going along reasonably well. Sure, we have returned money - but setting up a supported living arrangement for the future takes time and our non verbal sons with disabilities need to be considered all the time. We anticipate it may take up to 5 to 7 years to establish a quality/caring living for the future arrangement for our sons. Also what is really required by carers is say 1/2 yearly or yearly Regional/area meetings for all carers to share their information as well as hear from us. Combined meetings with the NDIA are essential. However, it would appear the last thing that Service Providers want is a situation where parents/ carers come together and share their stories.

Brian | 05 October 2019  

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