Have you ever stopped to think about what happens to people living with disabilities who don’t pass the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) eligibility test and are denied access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), sometimes repeatedly?
Well, disability advocate Todd Winther* has addressed just that issue in an opinion piece published by HireUp.
Mr. Winther writes that he has been watching the upcoming Federal election with unease:
“For people with disabilities, two misunderstood words have drowned out the noise in the rest of the campaign: ‘scheme sustainability’,” he writes.
“It is no coincidence that most of this discussion has been led by those with only a cursory working knowledge of the disability sector. They don’t even appear to understand the NDIS acronym.”
“They should know that the ‘I’ in the NDIS stands for insurance, and that basic insurance principles suggest that if the proper support is put in place initially, the cost of the policy, or in this case, the scheme, will decrease over time. That is the very definition of sustainability.
“Knowledgeable people familiar with the scheme would tell anybody willing to listen that practical sustainability measures have already been suggested, but these have been mainly ignored.
“The Productivity Commission Report - written in 2011 to assess the feasibility of the NDIS - recommended that disability support be divided up into three separate tiers.”
“During the election campaign, myopic focus has been drawn towards Tier 3, designed for those eligible for the scheme.”
“Tier 2, conversely, focuses on those people with disabilities that are not eligible for the NDIS. These are the forgotten people of the disability sector.”
Mr. Winther said the existence of Tier 2 was not widely known - even among people with disabilities.
As a result, many who are not eligible for the NDIS have spent time, resources and energy making access requests and going through the review and/or appeals processes only to be denied access that was never there.
“If, say, the government’s costly focus on the review and appeal process was re-directed towards the Tier 2 cohort, that too would be ‘sustainable’ by applying the same insurance principles applied to existing scheme participants,” he said.
Scheme reform was not the only issue that needed attention during the campaign, Mr. Winther said, another being accessible housing.
“In the first weeks of the campaign, an Anglicare report into rental affordability found that only 51 properties nationwide were affordable for people living on a disability support pension,” he said.
“People with disabilities could have access to all the support they could wish for, but that support is meaningless if they have nowhere to live.”
“The NDIS is only designed to provide financial backing for housing for those participants who need the highest level of support.”
“Accordingly, Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) funding is only available to 6% of scheme participants.”
“What are the housing options for the other 94% who don’t receive funding for SDA?”
“What are the options for our forgotten people with disabilities not on the scheme?”
While Mr. Winther admits he only chose to focus on one issue, the failure to address the accessible housing crisis is emblematic of how the issues that affect people with disabilities have been discussed in the campaign - in the abstract.
“Those who have no understanding of the disability community believe that our collective needs are a drain on society and in desperate need of economic intervention,” he said.
“To them, we are facts and figures. Nothing more.
“If people genuinely believe the cost of the NDIS is not sustainable, how about we talk about policies that make the lives of all people with disabilities more sustainable?”
*Mr. Winther is an NDIS subject matter specialist in home and living who provides training for service providers in housing policy and best practice, the NDIS in a public policy context and the social model of disability.
He has two degrees in political science and contributed an essay to the 2021 anthology Growing Up Disabled in Australia. He has also had political commentary published in The Conversation, and multiple news outlets.
Our thanks to Hireup for publishing this opinion piece.