Australia is at the precipice of an economic calamity: The NDIS is the solution
17 April 2020 at 2:04 pm
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a vital piece of national infrastructure which has enormous potential to be used extremely effectively throughout this looming challenge, write Laura O’Reilly and Karn Ghosh.
As the impact of COVID-19 spreads around the world, our society is increasingly coming to understand the potential scale of the calamity that may befall us.
At the time of writing there have been more than 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with experts projecting this number will almost certainly rise in coming weeks. Meanwhile, the uncertainty and fear caused by the virus, as well as the drop in economic activity globally, is wreaking havoc on the Australian economy, with reports of over half a million jobs at risk, predominantly in the tourism, hospitality, airline and retail sectors.
The Australian disability sector is in no way immune to the challenges ahead. People with disability themselves bear so much of the brunt of the worst impacts of the pandemic, with lives at immediate risk and the shortages of medicines, food and other necessary services creating enormous difficulties for people in their daily lives; while service providers face very uncertain times as face-to-face services hang in the balance and operational and staffing pressures mount.
But while the challenges of the situation cannot be overstated, there is also hope; and we suggest that a key part of a solution is to be found in front of us.
The NDIS – the National Disability Insurance Scheme – is a vital piece of national infrastructure which has enormous potential to be utilised extremely effectively throughout this looming challenge.
At full roll out, the NDIS will deliver $22 billion to Australians with disability each year. Of critical importance in this situation is that the NDIS deploys these funds in individual packages of money, which are calculated based on each eligible person’s specific needs, and which individuals can then use to engage the service providers, support workers, therapy services and other essential supports of their choice.
The NDIS is a visionary piece of social infrastructure of which all Australians should be proud. It is worth clarifying that it is not a welfare scheme, rather it is an insurance scheme built on sound actuarial principles. We offer that it is the most courageous nation-building project that is occurring on planet Earth currently, and is quite possibly the largest reform to the delivery of social services that any of us will see in our lifetimes. This human-centric model now stands to be a key part of managing the impact of the virus on our nation.
With the Australian economy, like economies globally, requiring massive stimulus measures over coming months to ward off (or slow) a likely recession, the billions of dollars already committed to the NDIS can be quickly deployed directly into the heart of the Australian economy, helping to complement other government stimulus initiatives. In fact, the previous December quarter of 0.5 per cent GDP growth was pushed into the positive only through spend in the social services and healthcare sectors.
With over 338,000 participants with disability already on the scheme – with plans set up, and access into the NDIS payment portal already long-established – the NDIS offers the federal government a ready pathway to inject money directly into the economy, in a highly effective (and measurable) manner.
NDIS funding, by its very nature, has to be spent. Unlike an interest rate cut or tax break for large companies, which may or may not see dollars flowing into the rest of the economy quickly, people with disability cannot put their NDIS funds aside into savings for the proverbial “rainy day”. People with disability need services today, tomorrow and each day thereafter, and often in quantities larger than that for which they are funded. And they spend those funds in ways which directly benefit the rest of the economy and create jobs: on wages for support workers and therapists, or on assistive equipment and specialist programs – which in turn employ staff – big and often small. We offer that direct funding deployed at the frontline will be a far more effective economic measure, than any central bank or government stimulus in the face of a recession triggered by the external biological threat that is COVID-19.
Furthermore, the NDIS offers an enormous opportunity to directly buffer our workforce against some of the worst expected economic impacts of a likely recession. Some economists are predicting widespread job losses of up to ~15 per cent and mass unemployment in younger demographics. Long before the pandemic arrived, the disability sector and individuals with disability themselves were struggling to attract the size and diversity of workforce needed to meet demand for supports, and under the current circumstances – where people are isolating in their homes and needing more one-to-one support – that labour-force demand is only going to grow.
With money ready to go in the form of the existing NDIS budget, and a growing need for supports amongst people with disability who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, an enormous opportunity exists here to redeploy workers who have lost their jobs in other parts of the economy into the disability sector. We believe that this offers a chance to accelerate the shift towards the community-based workforce of the future, a shift that our ageing population already necessitates, but which this pandemic can catalyse.
The best thing about the potential of the NDIS to play this role in our economy over coming months is that it does not require any new financial commitments from government, beyond what has already been committed. Nor does it require any new legislation, governance frameworks or infrastructure through which to effectively deploy funds.
What we do need to see, however, is urgent and immediate action from the federal government and the National Disability Insurance Agency to double down on their commitment to the NDIS, and to ensure that the whole of the NDIS budget is deployed for the benefit of people with disability (and is not raided for other purposes). We also urge the government to take urgent steps to reduce red tape and increase the flexibility with which people with disability can use their funding, and support the rapid upskilling and transition of workers into the sector.
We are confident that by taking these steps, the NDIS will turn out to be a highly effective and key solution to the economic calamities we face in times ahead. In fact it could be the saviour of our economy.