NDIS underspend helps return budget to the brink of surplus
20 September 2019 at 5:22 pm
The federal government spent $4.6 billion less on the National Disability Insurance Scheme than expected because of delays getting people into the program, new budget figures reveal.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Thursday announced the final budget outcome for 2018-19, showing a deficit of $690 million – $13.8 billion less than what the 2018 budget predicted.
This improved financial position – which leaves the budget on the brink of surplus for the first time since 2007-08 – was built on the back of underspending in areas including the NDIS.
The government says this underspend is a result of a slower than expected transition of people into the NDIS, but critics argue the money should be spent fixing various problems plaguing the scheme.
Frydenberg said the NDIS was a “demand driven system”, meaning that a slower uptake of the scheme resulted in less money being spent.
“This is in part because of the delays in some of the states coming on board, and also because it’s taken a bit more time for the service provider market to develop sufficiently to meet the available demand,” Frydenberg said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann assured people that “100 per cent of [NDIS] demand in the community will be met”.
“Essentially at any budget updates you’ve got movements up and down, you’ve got demand that is higher than expected and you have to pay more; sometimes you’ve got demand that is lower than expected,” Cormann said.
But Labor has attacked the underspend, with shadow NDIS minister Bill Shorten accusing the government of “short-changing” Australians with disability.
“It’s a national shame, it’s a disgrace. The fact of the matter is that the Morrison government is balancing its books on the backs of Australians with disabilities and their loved ones,” Shorten said.
“The money is meant to be there and getting out to the people… The reality is the demand is there.
“The reality is that in the last 10 weeks I’ve travelled all over Australia, it’s been a jaw dropping experience to realise that people are waiting 12 months, two years, for a wheelchair.”
An NDIS underspend has been a recent source of frustration for disability groups, after this year’s budget showed payments were expected to decrease by $1.6 billion in 2019-20 because of the slower than expected scheme uptake.
Advocates say any excess funds should be used to fix the scheme’s implementation problems rather than to fill a hole in the budget.
Thursday’s revelations were met with further anger from disability advocates on social media.
Pretty devastated to read today that Aus went into ‘budget surplus’ today due to $4.6b ‘saved’ on NDIS funding due to delays. I see the heartbroken families of people who try and try to get funding but can’t, robbing them to be independent, contributing members of society. Fix it
— Dylan Alcott (@DylanAlcott) September 19, 2019
Lobby group Every Australian Counts disagreed that the NDIS was a demand driven scheme.
“There are too many gates, hoops, loopholes, potholes, booby traps, dead-end mazes and endless miles of red tape for it ever to be considered ‘demand driven’,” the group said on Twitter.
Paralympian and disability advocate Dylan Alcott also slammed the underspend on Twitter.
“Pretty devastated to read today that [Australia] went into ‘budget surplus’ today due to $4.6b ‘saved’ on NDIS funding due to delays,” Alcott said.
“I see the heartbroken families of people who try and try to get funding but can’t, robbing them to be independent, contributing members of society. Fix it.”