The ‘Stressful’ State of the Disability Sector – Report
Tuesday, 9th December 2014
at 9:52 am
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist
Australia’s disability sector is dysfunctional, and transforming it is complicated, arduous and stressful with the National Disability Insurance Scheme currently "immersed in problem-solving", according to a new sector report.
Called the State of the Disability Sector, the report was launched by National Disability Services, the peak industry body for non-Government disability services at a national CEO conference in Melbourne which hosted 550 sector leaders.
“The resilience of disability service providers is being tested. Ambitious reforms, a tight fiscal environment, rigid program rules and uncertainty about wage setting in supported employment make for a complex operating environment,” NDS Chief Executive, Dr Ken Baker, told the Conference.
The State of the Disability Sector report includes a business confidence index for the disability sector, the first in-depth measurement of how disability service providers are faring during this period of major reform, an analysis of the challenges of implementing the NDIS around Australia, and a broad review of disability policy and trends.
“The disability sector has entered a period of major change. It’s also a period of uncertainty. Some of this uncertainty is the inevitable by-product of change; some is the result of unresolved policy questions,” Dr Baker said.
“Whatever its source, uncertainty makes the job of CEOs and Boards more difficult. It makes planning harder. It makes investment decisions more risky. It affects business confidence.
“The Business Confidence Survey indicates that the sector is rising to the challenge, but it’s not easy. While there is broad support for the direction of disability reforms, the map is unclear and the journey is daunting.
“2015 will be a critical year for the NDIS. We will all be looking to Governments and the National Disability Insurance Agency to outline a clear plan of how the Scheme will escalate from trial sites to nationwide.”
Dr Baker likened the progress of the NDIS to an extensive renovation of a cramped, dilapidated home.
“We know it’s justified; and we’re excited when we see the architect’s plans and the bank is persuaded to finance the renovation,” he said.
“But a few weeks after the builders arrive, the excitement has evaporated: the garden is a construction site, the bathroom is a mess of exposed pipe ends and we’re worried that the bank loan won’t stretch far enough. Our nerves are raw. This is the stage we’ve reached with the NDIS.
“No one doubts that the disability system needs extensive renovation. It can’t respond to the growing demand for services; crises distort spending priorities; prescriptive Government programs impede services from responding directly to the needs and goals of people with disability. But transforming this dysfunctional system is complicated, arduous and stressful.
“Almost 18 months into the launch of the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) is immersed in problem-solving. The NDIS trial sites are testing the design across diverse functions, from assessment and planning to payment systems and transport.
Dr Baker said significant pieces of the NDIS design were still being developed, including a national quality and safeguards framework, services for people who miss out on an individual support package and the design of the future disability support market.
“There are key questions that need answers before the NDIS escalates from trial sites (with around 30,000 people eligible for support) to national coverage (with up to 460,000
participants). How will housing supply be increased to meet the high demand for accommodation support? How will an enlarged, appropriately skilled disability services workforce be built?” he said.
“Prices are a key source of tension. While the NDIA is under pressure to contain costs, service providers know that unless prices for one-to-one supports increase, the choice and quality of services available to people with disability will diminish.
“The NDIS is not the only source of uncertainty for service providers. Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) are dealing with unresolved issues regarding wage assessment methods and future funding arrangements.
“Disability Employment Services (DES) are concerned about their financial viability in the face of rising compliance costs and a freeze on the indexation of fees.
“The prospect of applying competition policy to the community services sector raises many questions.
“Of course, not all is upheaval and uncertainty. Great stories are emerging from the NDIS trial sites as services expand. In the Victorian Barwon region, a long-standing waiting list for services is now redundant. The ‘ADEs Work for Me’ campaign is collecting compelling stories about the benefits of supported employment; and there are remarkable examples of people – supported by DES providers – who are defying predictions that they are unemployable.”
Dr Baker said however that the good stories will grow and the frustrations will diminish as long as Governments and the NDIA listen carefully and respond to the experience of service providers, people with disability and their families and carers.
“Applying this principle of co-design across all forms of disability support will ensure that we build a system that works for all stakeholders.
“Uncertainty is an inevitable product as we build the NDIS, but a road under construction is better than a sealed highway that heads in the wrong direction.”
The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield told the Conference that it was important to note that the report’s assessment of the sector does not question the need for the NDIS.
“It doesn’t question for a second the direction that we’re heading in. And it doesn’t question for a second the commitment of all the players in the NDIS,” Fifield said.
“None of us are served – Governments, providers, participants, potential participants, carers – none of us are served by anything other than a clear-eyed realism in relation to the Scheme."
The full report can be found here.