April 17, 2019

CEO Update - April 2019

We recently moved rapidly from digesting the Morrison government’s a budget, to understanding the opposition’s budget response, to being in the throes of a federal election cycle. There’s a lot going on, and a lot to understand. In coming weeks we will be highlighting various issues, and shining a light on what the proposals mean, and where we think they could be improved. 

Today’s piece comes from our co-Research Director at CSI UNSW, Associate Professor Gemma Carey, who gauges what the budget and upcoming election means for the NDIS.

- Professor Kristy Muir, CEO


NDIS and the budget: struggles and vulnerability 

The Coalition Government has argued that one of the strengths of the proposed 2019 budget it the $2.1 billion-dollar surplus it offers. Out of the five major savings, the largest comes from the budget underspend in the NDIS - contributing $1.6 million to the bottom line. This was attributed to a ‘slower than expected transition of participants into the NDIS’. While seemingly a banal issue of administration, this statement masks the struggles and vulnerability of those trying to access or use the scheme. Individuals who have not been able to ‘transition’ into the scheme are in fact sitting on long waiting lists, without access to services. The previous disability support system is now all but unravelled in preparation for the NDIS, this means that those waiting to enter the scheme are unable to access vital supports and services. 

What is not mentioned in the justification behind the underspend in the NDIS is that many participants have money in their plans they have not been able to spend, which is then repurposed across the scheme. This is because the new national disability markets, from which NDIS participants purchase services and supports, are still developing. Participants may have the money, but there are no services to buy with it. ‘Plan underspend’, and in turn its contribution to the budget surplus, represents unmet need within the community. While the Coalition has argued that tax relief will be welcomed by ‘hard-working Australians’, this is at the expense of some of the most vulnerable Australians. 

A more positive pre-budget move by the Coalition was to lift prices within the scheme. Substantial increases in prices will be seen in two key areas within the scheme:  one-to-one care and community participation. A recent report released by CSI in conjunction with National Disability Services found that across the disability sector, organisations are struggling with the prices set within the scheme. The boost in prices will enable more providers to stay afloat, offering more choice and control to participants. Research evidence from the UK suggests that the benefits may be more widespread. In the UK it was found that when funding is tightly capped, administrators automatically crack down on eligibility criteria and entry into schemes. Consistent with this, the last 12 months has seen growing media coverage of people shut out of the NDIS. An overall boost in funding to the scheme may well be good for potential participants, as well as providers operating within the scheme.

In Labor’s budget response, Bill Shorten made the sweeping statement that Labor would ‘get the NDIS back on track’. While a welcome gesture, Shorten offered far less in terms of detail. The only clear policy action on the NDIS that Labor has offered is a promise to lift the staffing cap on the main implementation agency - the National Disability Insurance Agency. The NDIS has been subject to a range of government audits and inquiries, which all found that it was under resourced and under pressure. Enabling the Agency to hire more staff will release pressure and enable timelier and less burdensome transition into the scheme. 

Regardless of the outcome of the coming election, transparency around NDIS funding and expenses should be a priority alongside the removal of the staffing cap on the NDIA. There are also key features of the scheme, such as the innovative Local Area Coordinator roles and community capacity building, which have fallen away. A return to the original blueprint put forward by the Productivity Commission would see a more functional and sustainable NDIS into the future.
Associate Professor Gemma Carey
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