Labour plans to fund the NDIS don’t dispel fears about the future

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By Fiona Bridger, Researcher and Writer, Achieve Australia   

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has provided people with disability with more control over their lives but it’s future is not something we feel sure of.

People with disabilities still live in fear of having their plans cut or that the NDIS won’t be around forever. Labor’s October budget has done nothing to dispel those fears.

The media commentary around the NDIS continues to trumpet the “cost blow out” theme we heard during the later Coalition years. Indeed, Budget reporting tells us the NDIS is on track to eclipse all other public funding – Medicare, aged care, contributions to state run public hospitals and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has said that under Labour, the NDIS will be fully funded. The former Coalition Government said the same while taking lots of funding out of the NDIS. It appears there has been a great deal of funding waste - mistakes, fraud and legal battles with participants who claimed they were not receiving the correct funding. 

The Scheme saw a 400% increase in NDIS decisions being challenged by participants through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The government legal bill for this covering a 12-month period could hit $50 million.

In the new October 2022 Budget, $21 million has been allocated for providers to support Scheme participants challenging decisions and $12 million to introduce an expert pathway to resolve disputes before they reach the AAT.

Let’s hope it provides some relief. I have personal experience of the anxiety and hurt created by the process. In my case, a planner didn’t approve my access to a psychologist for $6000 so I was forced to take them to court. The legal bill was over $6000 for the year. It’s a very stressful process when they don't approve your well thought out request.


Funding resources to get better outcomes

The NDIS is available to anyone aged under 65 who is an Australian resident with a disability. Those who are part of the Scheme, rely on the NDIS for their independence.

Participants and their families need reassurance that the government will enable them to live a fulfilled and supported life. If the government were to stop funding, it would be chaos.

People would end up in hospitals or nursing homes as many rely on funding to live independently and not all families would be able to support their loved one full time. The financial burden on individuals and their families would be immense. This would also have a devastating effect on the mental health of many people – participants and their family and friends. The government certainly doesn’t want people with disabilities to go into nursing homes, which are struggling to keep pace with the demand as it is.

For these reasons and many more, the hope is that the Labour Government will not cut back on vital NDIS funding and will also continue to fund more innovation on what is funded to increase value to individuals, families and society as a whole. 

For example, the NDIS has been funding classes for parents of children with intellectual disabilities to equip them with the skills needed to raise independent children who will grow up to need less support and have more independence.

The government is also hiring more planners to deliver the desired outcomes so that clients don’t have to go to court to dispute planners’ decisions. This will hopefully reduce the huge legal costs now incurred by participants to fight for the support they need.

I do applaud the money allocated in the Budget to fight criminals exploiting the Scheme who are taking precious dollars away from deserving people. And Minister Shorten’s decision to bring forward a 2-year inquiry into the Scheme.

Bravo too that the inquiry will be run by people with expertise in the disability arena and not the Productivity Commission. It is co-chaired by Melbourne Disability Institute’s Bruce Bonyhady and Commissioners include people with lived experience of disability including former NDIS coordinator Dougie Herd. How we would love to see the estimated $6 billion leaching from the system to criminals go to people with disability to secure their right to exercise choice and control over their lives.

Under Labour, I hope the NDIS will be back on track, working for, not against, people with disabilities and their families. For now, we have hope but certainty still remains elusive.

Published  4 November, 2022