NDIS: a fair go for people with a disability

Most people waking up this morning are not aware that last night, hundreds of thousands of Australians did not get to choose where they slept, what they ate or even who fed them dinner.

Every Australian knows someone with a disability - a sibling, a distant cousin, a grandparent or a friend’s new baby. Our children play and learn alongside children with a variety of disabilities each day at childcare and school.

Some of those children won’t have the physical or intellectual ability to shower themselves once they are adults and seeking independent lifestyles. Our system is so broken that when they reach adulthood, some will only have enough funding for support services to help to shower twice a week. This is replicated across basic care needs like help with eating, grocery shopping, managing money or moving around.

National statistics tell us about 1.4 million Australians have a disability, mushrooming to 2.5 million people by 2040. The current cost nationally is $10.5 billion a year, expected to skyrocket thanks to the shortage of early intervention, support services and the fact everyone is living longer.

We can no longer ignore this issue and hope it goes away. The system badly needs fixing and the cost of doing nothing is just as much.

People with disabilities have much to contribute to society and the economy through work, but can face insurmountable hurdles to do so. How many Australians would expect to go to work three days after we’d had our last shower? Transport systems barely cater for the current needs of the community. And if you live in a regional or remote centre – forget it.

No wonder this absurd and haphazard system is driving people to despair.

Inadequate support puts unsustainable pressure on informal carers. Eventually unable to cope, many have to transfer care to tax-payer funded options. This is what the Productivity Commission calls a “death spiral” for the current system.

The simple solution arrived on the Gillard Government’s doorstep on 31 July, when the Commission handed over the final report on a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Economic modelling by Queensland University of Technology and National Disability Services (NDS) shows that if just 2 per cent of people with a disability return to jobs across all industry sectors, the economic value would be up to $12 billion.

An estimated 740,000 Australians are unable to work, or work limited hours, because of their responsibilities as a carer. With adequate care and support provided, family members and carers could pursue study, work or retirement. If just 20 per cent could take up work across all industry sectors, the Australian economy would gain a $32.5 billion contribution, according to NDS calculations.

This economic shot in the arm would help offset the cost of a better deal for people with disabilities.

The Productivity Commission has set forth a plan to meet the care and support needs of all Australians with a significant disability, regardless of how or when their disability came about.

It’s a concrete, practical initiative with economic rigour, careful planning and real-world road-testing at its core.

The reality is that anyone can acquire a disability in a moment. That makes the Productivity Commission scheme of clear benefit to all Australians.

The centrepiece NDIS would insure all Australians with a significant disability for the cost of long-term high quality care and support. Currently each state and territory has different disability support and funding arrangements, and there is no recognised entitlement to funding or services for people with a disability.

This simple reform would sweep away state-based funding inequities and the frustrating maze of paperwork which dogs people with disabilities and their carers.

They’d gain access to specialist education, respite care, help with housework, personal care, therapies and more. Importantly, they’d gain the basic right to determine how their support funding is spent.

The plan would give assurance to ageing carers who worry what will happen to their child, sibling or spouse with a disability after their death.

People wouldn’t have to move interstate or worse – overseas - to get the basic disability support funding they need.

Early intervention would deliver better outcomes for many people with disabilities, reducing long-term costs for everyone.

The Productivity Commission says the costs of the NDIS are “manageable and justified when taking into account Australia’s wealth (and) economic growth”. And as leading economists, they should know.

Playwright Edward Albee said that sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.

We’ve gone the long way round.

Now Australia needs to offer a fair go for people with a disability, their families and carers.

David Barbagallo
CEO of Endeavour Foundation and Chairman of the Queensland NDIS Campaign Committee.