The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been riddled with problems from the start. But now even this inadequate program is at risk of being starved of funding, leaving people without proper care.
The government claims that there is a budget black hole of $3.7 billion and has attempted to blame the previous Labor government for underfunding the program. The truth is that both the major parties have played a role in undermining services for people with disabilities.
In January, the government tried to funnel money out of the Education Investment Fund (which is used for university infrastructure spending) to spend on the NDIS. They were unable to pass the necessary legislation so they are now looking at other areas of the budget to plunder.
Most recently they have tied proposed cuts to welfare – including cuts to family payments and unemployment benefits – to funding for the NDIS. They claim that these cuts will make more money available to cover the NDIS shortfall. Really, the aim of the government is to pit various vulnerable sections of the working class against one another.
While trying to rob Peter to pay Paul, the government is refusing to look at the most obvious source of revenue which is corporate tax. If big business were forced to pay more tax, and tax loopholes for the rich were abolished, more than enough money could be raised to fund disability services.
While Turnbull is putting the livelihoods of some of the most disadvantaged people in jeopardy, he wants to further reduce the company tax rate to 25%. This would lead to a loss of $50 billion of revenue. So biased is the government’s plan that even usually timid advocacy groups have spoken out in disgust.
The chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, attacked the government’s moves stating that “It is particularly egregious to be linking cuts to income support to the funding of the NDIS when the government legislated $4 billion over four years in personal income tax cuts last year for people earning $80,000 and over and is trying to push through a further $50 billion in company tax cuts”.
Paralympian and former member of the advisory council for the NDIS, Kurt Fearnley, has also blasted the government for linking welfare cuts to NDIS funding. “To sit there and draw a direct line between funding for people with disabilities and the cuts to other vulnerable members of our community — to those on welfare, to those on pensions — you could draw that line across a thousand different parts of the budget” Fearnley said.
Socialists similarly criticise the linking of welfare cuts to the funding of services – but we also point out that the NDIS was never an adequate program in the first place. The scheme was designed to entrench a user pays system on people with disabilities. It is essentially a voucher system that forces people into the clutches of for-profit private providers. The aim, over the long term, is to significantly cut the amount the government spends on looking after people.
There have been other criticisms as well. For example, Anglicare has raised issues with the schemes roll out, noting that carer’s access to respite services is likely to be less than under the current programs.
Most concerning however is that many people with mental illness will be left unprovided for by the NDIS. The problem lies in the different criteria applied between the current programs and the NDIS. Potentially, a staggering 100,000 people with mental illness will not meet the NDIS eligibility criteria. This in itself is an appalling indictment of the major parties that consistently put profits before the needs of people.
Ultimately the NDIS must be dumped and replaced by a socialised disability care scheme, one that is free at the point of access. Such a scheme could be fully funded by increasing taxes on big business. All care services should be under public and democratic control. Only these types of measures will ensure people with disabilities are looked after and that the burden is not left to family members and unpaid carers.
By Dane Letcher