The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been hailed by all the major parties as a progressive reform. Unfortunately this model for disability funding is nothing of the sort. Far from addressing any of the issues facing disabled people it will merely entrench a user pays system, a lower quality of care in the long term, increased costs and profiteering off some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Understandably the majority of people in Australia want to see more done to assist those with disabilities. The Government itself has said “we have a cruel lottery where the services and support people with disability, their families and carers receive depends on where they live, what disability they have, and how they attained that disability.
“As the Productivity Commission found, while there are pockets of success in some states, no disability support arrangements in any state or territory are working well in all areas.”
The accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers also gave a glimpse into the situation when they stated “Currently almost one in two people with a disability in Australia live in or near poverty (45%). Globally, Australia is at the bottom of the heap, it is ranked 27th out of 27 OECD countries, with a relative poverty risk of 2.7. Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries in the provision of employment opportunities for those with a disability.”
The blame for the state of things can be clearly placed on successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, who have systematically de-funded services and reduced support to disabled people. What the NDIS is about is shifting the costs associated with assisting disabled people further away from the government and onto ordinary people who will become increasing reliant on the private sector.
There is no doubt that Australia needs more disability funding. On the surface, given that an additional $6.5 billion will be spent on the scheme by 2018-2019, it can seem like a step in the right direction. But once you scratch the surface you quickly realise that this scheme continues the trend of decreasing funding in the long term. It will increase the use of private service providers and lay the basis for the general deregulation of the care system.
The NDIS funding commitments go side by side with other so called ‘welfare reforms’ including cuts to aged care and sole parent benefits. The report into the matter written by the Productivity Commission makes clear that while an additional $6.5 billion will be given with one hand the scheme will result in $7.1 billion being taken with the other hand via “direct offsets” over the same amount of time.
The scheme is basically a voucher type system. In essence the government will provide people with vouchers with which they can then use for private services. This is a step away from the government just funding its own services. People will be offered ‘individualised care packages’ which are in reality a way to rationalise the amount of assistance provided.
To make matters worse the initial trial of the NDIS is limited to only a few areas and there are still questions as to whether it will be extended further at all. At the same time the scheme will not cover all people with disabilities.
It seems people with serious psychiatric conditions will not be covered. The NDIS also leaves out people who have been disabled as a result of things like car accidents. People with mental illnesses will only be included if they have “significant or profound disabilities”.
A key goal outlined by the Productivity Commission is to ‘improve employment prospects’ for disabled people. While the government has already introduced measures to push people off the Disability Support Pension (DSP), and onto other lesser paid forms of welfare, the NDIS will help further streamline this process.
The plan of the government in the coming decades is to force hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities into the workforce. This is spelt out in the Productivity Commissions report. This will allow the government to further reduce costs associated with the DSP and give employers another layer of vulnerable people to exploit in low paid jobs.
As was highlighted in a Federal Court case last year, some disabled people are paid as little as $2 an hour! Clearly there is an incentive for both the government and employers to push people off the DSP. Disabled people should be able to choose whether to work or not. They should not be forced to work under financial duress.
The NDIS is really just another neo-liberal counter reform. When looked at in conjunction with other changes to healthcare funding arrangements, changes to the welfare system and the spending cuts implemented in recent budgets, it is clear that all of these measures form part of the government’s plan to reduce spending in order to satisfy the needs of big business.
Against the backdrop of a world economic downturn big businesses are demanding tax cuts and the opening up of new markets for them to exploit. In the case of the NDIS this helps them find a way to make profits out of the misfortune of disabled people.
The fact that the Greens, advocacy groups like GetUp!, and even a number of trade unions have thrown their weight behind the NDIS is an indication of just how neo-liberal these groups have become.
Rather than supporting the NDIS as ‘better than nothing’ genuine progressive people and organisations should come together to campaign for a series of reforms that would really improve the lives of disabled people. These could be paid for by increasing taxes on big businesses, especially on the super profitable mining giants.
Even a modest increase in company tax rates would be enough to fully fund all of the basic services needed by disabled people. If we were to go further and bring the private social care providers back in to public hands the money currently going towards profits could also be used to expand the system.
More than just social care services, disabled people, just like all other working class people, are in desperate need of things like affordable housing, free and accessible public transport and quality education and training. Only by addressing all of these issues together will it be possible to improve the lives of disabled people and to lift all of society’s most vulnerable out of poverty. The only way to really achieve this is to link the fight for these reforms with the fight for a democratic socialist society based human need rather than private profit.
The Socialist Party says:
-Scrap plans for the NDIS, instead allocate government funding for all the services disabled people need
-Provide free universal health and social care services to all who need them
-Pay a living wage to all disabled people and their carers regardless of their ability to work
-For decent education, training or work for all who want it, without compulsion
-No to the privatisation of services. Bring all privatised services back into public hands and under democratic control
-Massive investment into accessible public housing, accessible public transport and other infrastructure to create jobs and meet need
-For a socialist society that puts the needs of people before profits
By Anthony Main