2020 Vision - Universal Disability Insurance - Opinion
5 May 2008 at 10:47 am
Amongst the list of big ideas of the 2020 summit was an inexpensive, far-reaching solution to the forthcoming crisis in disability support according to Richard Dent, the CEO of the E W Tipping Foundation, a community development organisation with a focus on services and inclusion for people with a disability.
Here’s his view:
The idea is as simple as it is big: a national, universal disability insurance system.
Universal insurance for disability support services (The Age, 12 April) will define Australia’s fair-go culture for the 21st century. And it’s a concrete opportunity for Kevin Rudd to adopt a simple, low-cost big idea that will form part of his legacy for current and future generations.
Most Australians significantly underestimate their personal risk of needing disability support services. And most Australians think that somehow their government or their health insurance fund will look after them. However, this is often not the case.
Most Australians think disability is something that happens to other people. And yet every day, more people acquire – or are born with – a disability. Advances in medical technology do not mean a reduction in disability; in fact there is evidence that the reverse is true. Incurable medical conditions, accidental mishaps, unexpected food or drug reactions, or even – as in the case of James Macready-Bryan – criminal assault: we can start the day healthy and unimpaired, and by the end of the day we have been catapulted into a path that leads to isolation, poverty, and distress for ourselves and our families.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 1 in 5 Australians have some form of disability (intellectual, physical, sensory or other forms). The odds of having a "severe or profound" disability are around 1 in 16: almost 20 times more likely than having a fifth-division win in Tattslotto in any week.
And yet surely, in the 21st century, the risk is mitigated by health insurance and/or by Government? Think again. Health insurance will pay to patch you up, but if you need long term support, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. Or join a waiting list for Government-funded services. And while you’re on that waiting list, you could be unemployed, your partner could be forced to quit their job to look after you, the house payments could become a problem. Suddenly, life is very difficult indeed.
Of Australians with a disability, only around 15% receive professional (paid-for) disability services. As our population ages, so will the incidence of disability and our need to fix the disability crisis before it swamps us. Many need very little support. But there are thousands of people whose experience of societal reaction and government support is tragic.
The type of universal disability insurance scheme being proposed would cost a very small amount. Around $40 per person per year would raise more than $100M in Victoria alone, slashing waiting lists, strengthening families, and allowing countless thousands of family members to make other community contributions: increasing their skills or joining the paid workforce. Having carers back in the workforce increases their wellbeing, reduces the benefits that governments pay, increases taxes paid, increases national productivity, and helps reduce the workforce crisis.
In the 19th century we accepted that universal education defined our progress. In the 20th century we accepted that universal health care defined our progress. Now, in the opening years of the 21st century, let’s accept that universal access to disability services defines our progress.
After all, it could be any one of us who find ourselves in need. And it’s well worth a few dollars per year to make this Australian fair go a reality.