The recent Federal Budget confirmed around $1.6 billion in funding earmarked for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) had been left unspent and will not be added to its 2019–20 funding allocation.
The leftover money will go towards the Government’s surplus, a move made possible after responsibility for NDIS appropriations was shifted from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to the Department of Social Services.
Associate Professor Bob Davis, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Disability network, says he is concerned with this approach, which has been taken despite a Government commitment to add a further $3.5 billion to the scheme in the future.
‘We need to be sure that … the NDIS is not subject to political interference, particularly where funding is concerned,’ he said.
‘This “underspend” has been the result of delays in the rollout of plans, the bureaucratic maze that even the most capable of carers or people with disability struggle to get through, and the difficulties that people with plans have in accessing services that are not there.
‘I would have liked to see a commitment to making it easier for people with disabilities to negotiate this bureaucracy and to get the services they need.
‘Research into the workforce needs of the disability sector under NDIS and how that might be serviced by the education sector is another area of need.’
The decision to not roll over unspent NDIS money also provoked outcry from political opponents, who said the Government leveraged administrative problems within the NDIS to balance the Budget. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded by saying the Government would meet ‘every cent’ of its commitment to the scheme.
‘It is a demand-driven program and as of the end of last year there were 250,000 people who were in the NDIS, 78,000 of whom hadn’t received disability support before, and it is going to 460,000,’ he said.
‘Everybody who is in the NDIS is fully funded through this Government and through this Budget.’
The NDIS’s contribution to the Budget surplus could have been even higher, were it not for a recent $850 million injection designed to increase price limits for therapy, attendant care and community participation in the scheme.
The price increases, effective from 1 July, will include a minimum rise of almost $11 per hour for therapists, and up to a 15.4% price increase to the base limit for attendant care and community participation.
Federal Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, said the changes reflect market trends, costs in wages and other influences, and are part of the NDIA’s annual price review.
However, GP and director of the Centre for Developmental Disability Health, Dr Jane Tracy, stated that while the increases address the needs of service providers, a lack of crisis-response facilities, long waiting lists and the overly complex nature of the NDIS will continue to hamper the scheme.
‘People and their advocates need more assistance with implementing plans. A role more akin to a case manager, who does much of the thinking and planning and footwork, would be enormously useful,’ she said.
‘Just today, I met a man, supported by his brother, who is clearly eligible for the NDIS, but who has been rejected twice because his brother has neither the literacy, nor the health literacy, to complete the documentation required to have his brother deemed eligible for the scheme. In the meantime he is caring for his brother himself.
‘People with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable to the people and systems that surround them. When changes in the person’s health or life lead to a change in behaviour, a timely response is required to address the issues and prevent a deterioration in the person’s status.’
Associate Professor Davis agrees that it should be easier for people to access the services they need, especially in emergencies.
‘There has been a real problem in crisis management, with prolonged response times to people in desperate need,’ he said.
‘Often these people are left languishing in hospital for many months awaiting services.