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Big Issue Boss Flags NDIS Risk

26 May 2015 at 11:44 am
Lina Caneva
The UK CEO of social enterprise giant The Big Issue has warned delegates to a Melbourne disability employment conference to be wary of the personalised care model to be introduced under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Lina Caneva | 26 May 2015 at 11:44 am


Big Issue Boss Flags NDIS Risk
26 May 2015 at 11:44 am

The UK CEO of social enterprise giant The Big Issue has warned delegates to a Melbourne disability employment conference to be wary of the personalised care model to be introduced under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Jim Mullan presented at National Disability Services’ Disability at Work Conference on the soon-to-be-introduced NDIS model of personalised care in Australia, where budgets will be allocated to individuals as opposed to blocks of grants coming from Government.

He warned of the pitfalls of commercialisation and was critical of the new model based on what he had learned from the delivery of personalised care in the UK.

“[At the conference the NDIS] was presented as an opportunity, and if I’m being entirely honest, I think it’s an opportunity, but it’s not an opportunity without risk, and I think there are many organisations, particularly across the Australian Disability Enterprise spectrum, who are better positioned than others to take full advantage of this,” Mullan told Pro Bono Australia News.  

“That process has been underway for a number of years in the UK. As you would expect with most changes it has served some people very well but left others with a deficit, [for example] no employment placements.

“The personalisation of budgets is like motherhood and apple pie. On the first presentation of [personalised care], it’s very difficult to see what the downside is to it, understanding that the freedom of choice and the personal responsibility and the capacity to make the decisions in the best interest of people just seems like the natural and logical way to go.

“The question you would ask yourself… is how do you best support the organisations who aren’t currently as well-placed to take advantage of the introduction of this new system, or to protect themselves from the downside of what’s coming?

“I think there will be an accompanying commercialisation around all of these activities, which will mean that the bigger, more secure providers who already have a substantial proportion of their overhead, if not all of it, covered by their enterprise or income-generating activities are probably well-placed.  

“I think that once you begin to go down the spectrum of contribution, with respect to how well the businesses actually are, I think the greater the risk becomes.

“We’re clearly moving towards that, and I articulated that view, and I think it found some resonance with the audience, because regardless of the politician’s presentation of it. I think a lot of the organisations in that space are really nervous about it and it didn’t feel to me, based on what I saw and heard, that a lot of their concerns were being assuaged by what they heard coming from Government or coming from other interested parties who were on their feet.”

Mullan said he had urged the crowd to fight to retain services, and warned that the NDIS should not become a mere economic argument if it was to be sustainable in the long-term.

“I had no sense whatsoever that [Mitch Fifield] wasn’t committed to supporting lots of the services as they currently exist and I also get a sense that he was completely supportive of NDIS’s position with respect to losing no jobs,” he said.

“I understand there will be an upside to this but I also feel there will be a downside, the introduction is just over two years away, and I would be inclined to feel more confident about all this if I felt there were more protective factors because the last thing you want is to lose services to disabled people.”

Mullan added that it would be critical that the independence and identity of the Australian social sector was retained.

“The United Kingdom has had a commercialisation of social care… over the past 15 or 20 years. The truth of the matter is, I’m not sure we are in a much better position for that movement and I genuinely believe there have been lots of very good services and frankly a lot of cultural understanding has been lost by the ‘removal’ of the third sector,” he said.   

“I think the other thing I would observe about Australia generally – and this is also relevant in the United Kingdom – is that the closer the third sector gets to Government, and the greater the dependency there is for the third sector on Government, the less teeth it has with respect to its capacity to campaign and operate at the leading edge.

“It just feels like lots of the big third sector organisations in Australia now and in the UK are stymied – or perhaps their leading edge thinking in terms of the people they represent is dulled a little – because they are so dependent on Government for their livelihood.

“Lots have developed a lot of real skill, where all of the skill is dependent on the delivery of Government services, so there is this drift away, I suspect, from the original social intent and mission of organisations to becoming effectively a quasi or arms-length arm of the state.”

He said Australia could take advantage of its relatively strong financial position and start thinking more boldly about the long-term sustainability of services.

“[Australia] by tonnes enthralls and enrages me. I can’t understand in this country why austerity is even on the agenda considering debt by comparison with GDP,” he said.

“I also feel that the country needs to perhaps make a decision… with respect to the economy, worldwide, the war is over. I think there is no doubt that the world economic system is going to market-driven. I think the question for all of us in the developed world is do we want market-driven societies along with market-driven economies.

“I don’t think so, I still think there’s a place for a normative arm of state… which intervened on the basis that It doesn’t matter what it costs, we do the right thing.

“With an economy that feels like it’s guaranteed for the next hundred years, breaking out of a four year plan and analysing and beginning to think about the long-term interests of all services I would have thought was much easier to achieve in Australia perhaps than any other developed economy in the Western world right now.”

Mullan’s visit, in which he has also met with numerous local organisations, including The Wyatt Foundation, Philanthropy Australia’s Victorian Next Generation Group, the

Gandel Foundation and the Reichstein foundation, concludes this week.  

The Big Issue is a street newspaper founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick in September 1991 in the UK, and is one of the UK's leading social businesses. It offers homeless people, or individuals at risk of homelessness, the opportunity to earn an income. The Big Issue magazine concept came to Australia in 1993 based on the UK model. The first magazine was launched in Australia on the steps of Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station on June 16, 1996.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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