The recent National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) quarterly report, released on Monday, has highlighted that richer or more well off participants are receiving a higher average of funding compared to participants in lower socio-economic deciles.
This revelation seems to be consistent across all age groups, however, one peak body says that, unfortunately, this has been the case for a while and is not new information, it has only now been recognised by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).
Aged and Disability Advocacy (ADA) Australia, a not-for-profit advocacy service, has said that this disparity is due to well off people having more support to explain their story better when being assessed for the NDIS.
Overall, there is a nine percent difference in funding between the lowest socio-economic decile, which is at $51,300, with people in the highest socio-economic decile receiving an average of $55,700.
By age group:
Between the ages of 0-14. The average plan budget for people in the lowest socio-economic decile is $24,000, compared to $25,600 for participants in the highest socio-economic decile - a 10 percent difference
Between the ages of 15-17. The average plan budget for people in the lowest socio-economic decile is $54,500, compared to $60,700 for participants in the highest socio-economic decile - a 11 percent difference
Between the ages of 25-64. The average plan budget for people in the lowest socio-economic decile is $77,300, compared to $83,200 for participants in the highest socio-economic decile - a eight percent difference
The report admits that there is inconsistency in access and planning decisions, which may reflect the information collected from participants.
ADA Australia appreciates the NDIA for being upfront and transparent about the issue, and is curious to see what strategies the NDIA will be putting in place to help with the funding disparity.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ADA Australia, Geoff Rowe, believes the reason for the current disparity between higher and lower socio-economic groups isn't because of favouritism but the fact that people with disability from lower socio-economic groups just don't have the same support to articulate their story or needs.
"I think what the report shows is what we have always known, and that is entering the NDIS is complex and is really dependent on how well you can tell your story. So it is not unusual that people from a higher socio-economic group are better able to articulate what their needs are than those in a low socio-economic group," explains Mr Rowe.
"While the intent of the NDIS is that it should be available to all Australians, clearly we have seen it is those who are most articulate, the most organised or who have the strongest advocates, are the people who tend to be the most successful."
ADA Australia and their associated branch, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Disability Network of Queensland (ATSIDNQ), are currently involved in a Queensland State Government program that is attempting to increase the access of vulnerable groups to the NDIS.
He says that the Disability Connect and Outreach Program (DCOP) is targeting those really hard to reach cohorts who have attempted to enter the NDIS before but have "fallen at the first hurdle" or people with disability that have never heard about the NDIS.
The experiences heard through this initiative backs the fact that the NDIS can be complex to navigate and can dissuade people from attempting to access the scheme.
ADA's current suggestion to fixing the problem would be through more advocacy programs, as people with disability need support to access and navigate the NDIS system, including advice that is independent, culturally appropriate, and from people who are "trusted".
People with disability may struggle with telling their story as it can be confronting and challenging. Mr Rowe says this same issue was one of the reasons why people with disability didn't want the Independent Assessments, the Government tried but failed to implement, as they did not want to tell their story to a stranger.
Mr Rowe believes that the NDIS quarterly report statistics show the common experience of many people trying to access the NDIS, which gives the community an understanding of where the scheme is falling short.
He adds that, from his perspective, the Agency sharing this information publicly is setting a benchmark for the NDIS.
"That benchmark is something that they are being transparent about, and that is positive because it means we, as a community, can keep an eye on that differential and keep an eye on that gap, with the view of making sure that that gap closes," says Mr Rowe.
"In the future, your socio-economic status isn't a determinar, or seen as a determinar, to how well you are accessing the scheme.
"...Disability doesn't discriminate, we know that. People with disabilities are born into very wealthy families, very poor families, they are right across the spectrum so you would expect the participation in the NDIS should reflect the full spectrum of the Australian community."
NDIS struggling to meet half of its self-set CALD goal
Another highlight from the quarterly report is that the NDIS is struggling to reach halfway to its target of 20 percent of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) people with disability accessing the scheme - two years past its promised deadline.
There are 466,619 NDIS participants and only 9.5 percent (44,113 people with disability) are from CALD backgrounds with only 6.9 percent of participants who identify themselves as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
The NDIA had set themselves a 2019 deadline to increase the number of CALD people with disability accessing the NDIS which is less than half of the goal of 20 percent.
The Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Strategy 2018 was the NDIA's public commitment to working with CALD people with disability to get access and outcomes from their NDIS plan that would match with the broader population of participants.
However, the quarterly report shows the organisation is falling well short of the mark two years on.
In March 2018, there were around 10,900 participants who identified as having a CALD background and in March 2021, that number has risen to 42,265.
While there has been a gradual increase of 9.5 percent of CALD background participants, it is well below the NDIA's estimate of 20 percent.
Now, the NDIA has announced that they are currently working on a "refreshed" strategy, which will be completed in 2022.
The organisation also admits that they are investigating the current CALD participant cohort so they can understand why there is a lower than expected proportion of CALD participants.
The NDIA said in its CALD Strategy Progress Updates that, "The Agency believes this may in large part be explained by low rates of self-identification of CALD people seeking access to the NDIS. "