Advocates slam government’s claims of an NDIS cost blowout
12 May 2021 at 11:22 am
The Morrison government is pushing to make the NDIS more affordable
Disability groups have welcomed a $13.2 billion boost to the National Disability Insurance Scheme outlined in the federal budget, but say they are disappointed by the Morrison government’s messaging around a supposed blowout in scheme costs.
The extra funding for the NDIS over four years will see the cost of the scheme reach $31.9 billion in 2024-25, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his budget speech that “under the Coalition, the NDIS will always be fully funded”.
Despite this promise, the federal government has also flagged recently that it is concerned about the sustainability of the scheme.
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds told Senate Estimates last week she believed the NDIS was growing at an unsustainable rate, with costs “increasing far more significantly, year on year, than was ever expected”.
Reynolds reiterated this point following the budget’s release, stating that the scale and cost per NDIS participant was “now on a trajectory well ahead of what was anticipated by its original design”.
“The number of participants was also estimated well below the 530,000 Australians expected to access the scheme in coming years,” Reynolds said.
“The Commonwealth will continue to discuss with the states and territories how we can work together to guarantee the affordability of the NDIS to ensure it endures for many generations of Australians to come.”
Disability advocates have pointed out that the future cost of the scheme was not representative of a blowout, but rather reflective of a 2017 Productivity Commission report that forecast NDIS costs would exceed $30 billion by 2024-25.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News that while she was pleased to see the latest NDIS funding injection, the government’s messaging around scheme costs was disappointing.
“We’re obviously pleased to see the Morrison government fully fund the NDIS and we really welcome the commitment to the NDIS as being an essential service,” Sayers said.
“However we’ve been concerned about the government’s messaging around the blowout in NDIS costs when the Productivity Commission report projections show that the NDIS is on track.”
The Morrison government is looking to reduce costs for the NDIS through the introduction of mandatory independent assessments (IAs), which would assess scheme eligibility through NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals using standardised tools.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison used a pre-budget speech last week to warn that IAs were needed to keep the NDIS sustainable and affordable.
But this reform has been met with swift backlash from disability groups, who say IAs fail to capture the complexity of a person’s support needs and will lead to unfair outcomes.
Sayers said the government must not go ahead with these changes and needs to work with the sector on a better solution.
“After the treasurer’s commitment to the NDIS in the budget, we now want to see true consultation with the disability sector about the future of the NDIS, especially when many of the measures being proposed like independent assessments are being rushed through despite widespread condemnation,” she said.
“And we’re really keen for the narrative to not be around how much the scheme costs but how well it supports people, because doing so properly actually saves money because of the savings to other systems like hospitals and other services.”
From a CYDA perspective, Sayers was also pleased to see an investment of $17.9 million over four years to establish a new early childhood program for children with disabilities, but she said she would be looking for further details on what exactly this entailed.
National Disability Services (NDS) has welcomed the $13.2 billion NDIS funding boost in the budget, while echoing Sayers’ concerns around the government’s messaging on NDIS costs.
NDS CEO David Moody said all political parties needed to “drop the politics” when talking about the scheme.
“At the moment we are hearing scary talk about a scheme in danger, which is unsettling for people with disability, and inconsistent with the Productivity Commission’s outlook from 2017,” Moody said.
“Our ask now is that the government and agency commit to constructive conversations with NDS, our members, and other disability sector stakeholders to help develop solutions to any concerns the [National Disability Insurance Agency] or minister has.”
Moody said NDIS participants and service providers should not be caught in any political crossfire over funding.
“[Nor should] any new programs be rolled out which are designed to ‘rein in costs’ or ‘drive efficiency’ but which haven’t taken into account the real-life experience of those who are directly impacted,” he said.
“NDS and our members can be a valuable resource for the government, if we are allowed to be.”
The federal budget also included a $12.3 million investment to better align regulation across the aged care, disability and veterans’ care sectors.
This is expected to reduce red tape for providers and make it easier for care and support staff to work across these three areas.
It comes as the federal government predicts around 83,000 new disability workers will be needed by 2024, which would take the total disability workforce to around 353,000 people.