Advocates ask, why are NDIS funds not being used to fix the scheme?
Wednesday, 3rd April 2019 at 12:19 pm
Disability groups have welcomed the federal government’s $528 million pledge for the disability royal commission but say a multi-billion dollar underspend of National Disability Insurance Scheme funds in the budget is a “national disgrace”.
The royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability will be the most expensive royal commission to date, and includes $379 million to run the inquiry and $149 million to provide counselling and support services.
Matthew Bowden, co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, said this budget funding was very much welcomed, noting that a variety of supports were needed to allow people to fully participate.
“Different people with disability [must] have their needs met, based on their personal circumstances, including age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, intersex status and ethnicity, acknowledging the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability,” Bowden said.
But advocates remain concerned with underspending on the NDIS, with payments expected to decrease by $1.6 billion in 2019-20 because of the slower than expected transition of people into the scheme.
PWDA also noted the federal government spent $3.8 billion less on the NDIS in 2018-19 than they estimated in last year’s budget.
— Meg Clement-Couzner (@MegPWDA) April 2, 2019
Bowden said the NDIS was an essential part of Australia’s social infrastructure, and must be available to all people with disability who need it.
“The almost $4 billion underspend of NDIS funds is a national disgrace, and we completely oppose the spending of these funds anywhere but on people with disability,” he said.
“People with disability come to us every day in despair because they can’t access the NDIS, their funding packages have been cut or they aren’t getting the supports they urgently need.
“Where is this money going, if it’s not being spent making sure that people with disability can have the supports they need for an equal life?”
The government has defended the NDIS underspend, arguing that funding is based on supply and demand and will be available when more people transition into the scheme.
— Senator Jordon Steele-John (@Jordonsteele) April 2, 2019
But disability groups say any excess funds should be used to fix the NDIS’s implementation problems which are preventing people from using the scheme in the first place.
Employing more NDIS staff and removing the staffing cap is one area advocates would like to see funding go towards, with employees predicted to reach 3,230 in 2019-20.
“As people wait for months to have their access requests and reviews assessed, the government has failed to even meet its own target of 3,700 [staff],” Bowden said.
“The cap must be removed altogether so we are not left in limbo, sometimes at risk of harm and even death.”
Kirsten Deane, the director of Every Australian Counts, said the NDIS had been underspent since its inception because of implementation problems.
She said people were waiting too long to enter the scheme – and once they did they were waiting too long for support.
“Most people in the NDIS are not spending all the funding allocated to them because they cannot work their way through the bureaucratic maze that is the NDIS to get the help they need,” Deane said.
“This cannot be allowed to continue. Urgent changes must be made to get the scheme working the way it should and finally get people the help they need.
“Let’s be clear – we are not asking for more. We are simply asking for the funds allocated to the NDIS to be spent on the NDIS – not just quietly disappear. That’s what people with disability expect and deserve.”
Deane told Pro Bono News, people with disability and their families were waiting for two years to access vital equipment such as wheelchairs while the “government bolstered its own bottom line.”
She said this was a key reason why the government needed to increase spending on the NDIS.
“We met one young man in regional Victoria last week who’s been waiting two years for a wheelchair and he ended up in hospital as a result of that,” she said.
“He desperately needs a wheelchair but implementation problems mean he is having to wait years to get it. That’s why we think the NDIS underspend needs to go towards fixing these kind of issues.”
While @ScottMorrisonMP is celebrating a surplus, just remember, $1.6 billion of his pre-election cash-splash has come from his LNP government’s massive underspend in the @NDIS. This is a government who is short-changing Australians with disability. Shameful. #Budget2019 #auspol pic.twitter.com/GI6MbDVvco
— Coralee O’Rourke (@CoraleeORourke) April 2, 2019
Summer Foundation CEO Luke Bo’sher said the NDIS underspend was disappointing considering 50 Australians with disability entered aged care each week because there was nowhere else for them.
“The underspend in the NDIS should be used to invest in building the infrastructure needed to deliver the NDIS – such as developing housing options, including interim and transitional housing,” Bo’sher said.
“The temporary underspend in the NDIS also provides a funding mechanism for the current gaps in the NDIS-health interface that are preventing people with disability from having access to the essential supports they require to live in the community.”
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations CEO Ross Joyce added that money should go towards supporting people in the NDIS to fully utilise their plan funding.
“At the moment I think about 45 per cent of people are under utilising their plans,” Joyce told Pro Bono News.
“That shows there’s a lack of services and probably a lack of understanding around plans as well. So we need unspent money to go back to resolving these issues quickly.”
The sector is also concerned by the government’s crackdown on people accessing the Disability Support Pension.
This year’s budget papers showed spending on the DSP is estimated to decrease by 2.3 per cent from 2019-20 to 2022-23, as eligibility requirements tighten.
It comes amid a 77 per cent increase in DSP appeals, which advocates warn is wrongly forcing vulnerable people onto lower benefit payments.
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