The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will change the way funding is directed to, and used by, people with disabilities. Rather than choosing a service provider who will deliver a pre-determined set of services, under the NDIS people with disabilities can use their funding to choose which providers to buy their support from. In principle, this is a fantastic idea, especially for people have to capacity to advocate for themselves. However, for those who need assistance to advocate and navigate the complex disability market, the NDIS model presents many challenges.
Politicians, both Labor and Liberal, are using the NDIS for political brownie points, promising a full roll-out on time and within budget, whilst ignoring the many issues facing the scheme. One of these issues is the low price set for funded personal supports, which must be able to cover all associated costs of supports including, administration fees and wages and conditions for the workforce. A report published by Curtin University in early September 2016 highlights the major challenges facing the sector. The report details how disability organisations are struggling under the roll out of the NDIS with most reporting low profit margins and struggling to survive in the competitive environment. Unfortunately, employers are responding to these low prices by driving down worker wages and conditions. It’s also driving the Victorian Government’s decision to divest itself of DHHS disability services.
The inadequate price, and the response from employers and the State Government, will undermine the NDIS as the system struggles to build and maintain a skilled, experienced and quality workforce.
People with disabilities will suffer too. Many of the people currently receiving public sector disability services live with profound cognitive disability and medical needs. The opportunity to live a fulfilling life relies on a skilled, experienced and quality workforce.
The disability workforce is undervalued, poorly recognised by governments and society more broadly. Partly this reflects social attitudes which see care work as something done in the home and behind closed doors, with the expectation that the work involved should be gifted freely and without fanfare by people, the vast majority of whom, are women. This undervaluation plays out in the form of low wages, limited career pathways and attraction and retention difficulties.
Employers still clearly believe this, with their representatives arguing in the Fair Work Commission Modern Award Review that the NDIS means wages and penalty rates need to be cut and shift lengths shortened to 15 minutes. They also want to further casualise the workforce and create more flexibility to ‘hire and fire’, ultimately increasing productivity and profits at the expense of workers conditions. The employers are also arguing that part timers should be more ‘flexible’ – these changes will mean that workers will effectively work as casuals but be employed as part timers. Meaning no minimum contracted hours of shift length and workers will not receive the 25 percent casual loading.
The choice and control principles of the NDIS are fantastic, however the threat this poses to the workforce will completely undermine the success of the NDIS. A successful NDIS for people with cognitive impairments and those who cannot advocate for themselves cannot exist without a highly skilled, qualified and experienced workforce.
With wages and conditions under threat, we cannot continue to build and maintain a skilled workforce.
Workers must become unionised, and build alliances with family groups and advocates in order to fight against the threats to the sector. This is not a matter simply pertaining to the workforce or people with disabilities, but an issue that should concern the entire Victorian community.