That National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), now named DisabilityCare, was presented as a key reform by the Gillard government in the May budget. While more funding and support for people with disabilities is much needed, when you look at the detail of the scheme this is not what DisabilityCare will deliver.
Editorial comment from the June 2013 edition of ‘The Socialist’
Far from increasing funding to public services the Gillard government’s policies are aimed at reducing state spending on disability care over the long term and pushing people into the arms of for-profit service providers. At the same time Labor has plans in place to half the number of people who receive the Disability Support Pension (DSP).
Many media reports have given the impression that people with disabilities are about to benefit immediately. The truth is that the scheme won’t even properly begin until 2019. Despite this the mechanism by which the government plans to raise the money for the initial start up costs will be levied on ordinary people immediately.
In the lead up to the May budget the government announced that it plans to increase the Medicare Levy from 1.5% to 2% to help raise $11.7 billion over the forward estimates. Many people have initially supported this measure hoping that the money will be used to help those in need. Unfortunately most will be disappointed in the years to come when the realities of this scheme become clearer.
Even if an increase to the Medicare levy was to be used to directly increase funding to public services, this is not where the money should come from. Socialists argue that public services like healthcare, education, transport etc should be paid by for by those who profit from the wealth that society creates: big business.
The Medicare levy is an income tax levied on wage earners. In the main workers are already struggling to make ends meet. Big business on the other hand has consistently had their taxes reduced over the past 30 years. If the big banks, the mining companies and the casinos all paid an appropriate amount of tax on their super profits there would be more than enough money to fund public services without reducing the wages and spending capacity of ordinary people.
DisabilityCare however is not designed to expand public services. It is in effect a voucher scheme. Those who qualify for the scheme will receive a set amount of money to be spent specifically on personal care services and other needs. Private for-profit providers will offer services to people alongside public and community-run providers.
As has been seen in other areas (like the TAFE sector in Victoria) funding to the public providers will be progressively reduced and more and more people will be forced to use the private system. The effect of this process will be higher costs and poorer services as the private providers prioritise profits over people’s needs. Voucher schemes are an attempt to privatise services by stealth.
Side by side with the plans to push people with disabilities into the arms of profiteers, the government put measures in place in the last budget to tighten the eligibility criteria for the DSP. Their aim is to cut welfare costs by pushing people with disabilities and their carers into the low paid workforce.
Employers see this vulnerable section of society as prime candidates for exploitation. Already we have a situation where it is legal to pay people with disabilities less than Award rates. Businesses would like to see this practice extended as it helps to drive down wages and conditions across the board.
The Productivity Commission report into these matters stated “In fact, the package of measures, including through reforms to the Disability Support Pension (DSP), would be likely to raise employment by considerably more than 100 000. Under a reasonable scenario, the Commission estimates that there could be additional employment growth of 220 000 by 2050 (including for people with less severe disabilities).”
Already young people with disabilities are initially placed on the NewStart allowance rather than the DSP. This is a lower payment which is made contingent on people looking for work as opposed to a pension.
Gloating about the government’s welfare cutting measures, Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin’s office said “The government has already made substantial reforms to the disability support pension and we’ve achieved the biggest drop in the disability support pension population in 30 years”.
Some disability advocates say that the government has already raised the possibility of further changes to the DSP eligibility criteria including more stringent return-to-work plans. Regardless the measures are already having the effect of reducing support for people with disabilities and the trend is set to continue unless it is challenged more widely.
Socialists are not against people with disabilities working if they can or want to. What we are opposed to is people being forced to work low-paid jobs against their will. A living wage should be paid to all disabled people, and their carers, regardless of their ability to work. Decent education, training or work should be available for all who want it, without compulsion.
We disagree with those who claim that DisabilityCare is better than nothing. The scheme alongside the cuts to welfare payments will mean a worse deal for people with disabilities in the long term. This neo-liberal counter reform should be opposed and replaced with a progressive alternative.
Rather than meekly accepting the Labor Party’s sub-standard deal disability advocates, trade unions and NGOs need to campaign for reforms that will genuinely improve the lives of people with disabilities. More than just care services, people with disabilities need of things like affordable housing, free and accessible public transport and quality education and training. Investment in these areas would not only address need but also create much needed jobs.
Rather than a voucher system we need to allocate adequate public funding for all the services people with disabilities need. Free universal health and social care services should be available to all who need them. Far from boosting the for-profit sector we should bring all privatised services back into public hands and put them under democratic community control. In this way people will be able to have a real say over their lives rather than being dictated to by private service providers and exploitative bosses.
At the end of the day the only way to ensure that real progressive reforms are made permanent is to fight for a different type of society – a socialist society whereby the wealth created is used for the benefit of all. On this basis people could contribute what they can and be afforded what they need to live with dignity and respect.