Budget is lean, mean and disappointing for people with disability

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Federal Budget for 2022/23 falls short of expectations for people with disability. [Source: Parliament Live]
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Federal Budget for 2022/23 falls short of expectations for people with disability. [Source: Parliament Live]

The Federal Government’s Budget for 2022/23 provides little to specifically support people with disability, despite the long list of funding requests submitted during the Pre-Budget consultation period.

Samantha Connor, President of peak disability representative organisation People with Disability Australia (PWDA), says she is “very disappointed” with the outcomes seen in the Budget.

“This budget is a lean, mean budget for people with disability, their families and carers,” says Ms Connor.

“The 2022 Budget provided a valuable opportunity for the Federal Government to give people with disability more support and protection during emergencies like floods and bushfires, more protection from COVID, better support via the [National Disability Insurance Scheme] (NDIS) and violence prevention services and increased support for disability advocacy services.

“The additional funding we were seeking in relation to these issues would have significantly improved the health and safety of people with disability across Australia. However, the government has clearly decided to short-change people with disability once again with no new funding commitments of any significance.”

The Budget does include:

  • $249.1 million to grow and sustain the care and support workforce
  • $3.5 million in behavioural support training for up to 4,000 workers who support NDIS participants with a behaviour support plan
  • $81.2 million to continue the Disability Information Gateway
  • $72 million for reporting, data and research to show what change is being achieved for people with disability through Australia’s Disability Strategy and $76.8 million for the Strategy’s Targeted Action Plans
  • $45.5 billion over four years to access more affordable medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and more than $2.4 billion to add vital new medicines to the PBS this year
  • $6.0 billion for the COVID-19 Winter Response Plan to manage COVID‑19, influenza, and other respiratory diseases that may put people with disability medically at risk
  • Funding for 5.5 million COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests for high‑risk residential disability care settings
  • $6.8 billion over four years for medical research, informed by the Government’s updated Medical Research Future Fund Ten Year Investment Plan, including research into traumatic brain injury
  • $52.3 million for Lifeline mental health services to meet additional demand
  • $17.8 million for mental health support to multicultural communities across Australia, enabling refugees and culturally and linguistically diverse communities to access care
  • $206.5 million to continue and expand mental health services nationwide for around 2,800 young people experiencing severe and complex mental illness

While the Budget outline reads, “Funding for the NDIS is guaranteed… A fully‑funded NDIS is part of the Government’s plan for a stronger economy”, Ms Connor says people with disability have been treated poorly by the Government over the last three years.

“They actively deprioritised us from protection during the worst of the COVID pandemic. They tried to kneecap our NDIS packages with independent assessments and are continuing with their plan to hollow out the NDIS by massively increasing adverse decisions against participants and clawing back payments,” she says.

“And they continue to support industry models for disability support services which often deliver segregation, violence and abuse to many people in our community.

“The 2022 Budget provided a platform for the government to try and regain support from people with disability in the lead-up to the upcoming election. But what this Budget shows is the Government is once again deprioritising people with disability at a time when our need to be protected, supported and valued has never been greater.

“One in five Australians lives with disability and that’s a very significant proportion of voters. Ahead of the upcoming election campaign, this is a Budget that puts people with disability at the end of the queue.”

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is also disappointed to find no targeted plan to tackle the violence, abuse and discrimination experienced by many women and girls with disability.

The Federal Government has committed a further $1.3 billion over six years to implement measures under the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032.

While WWDA Executive Director Carolyn Frohmader says that is a welcome investment, she has concerns about how well mainstream programs will be able to address the unique forms of violence faced by women with disability.

“Compared to their peers, women and girls with disability experience significantly higher levels of all forms of violence more intensely and frequently and are subjected to violence by a greater range of perpetrators and in a larger range of settings,” says Ms Frohmader.

“Despite WWDA’s many years of work calling for mainstream prevention efforts, violence response services and national strategies to include women with disability, the primary focus has remained on addressing intimate partner violence and ignored the fact that perpetrators of violence against women with disability are often parents, carers, support workers, Government agencies and institutions.

“While we acknowledge and welcome the $9.3 million that was provided in last year’s Federal Budget to fund initiatives specifically to address the high rates of violence experienced by women with disability, it is essential that the experiences and needs of women with disability are incorporated into mainstream efforts to improve the safety of all women, rather than siloed as a separate ‘issue’.”

Cost of living promises fall short

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), a national advocacy organisation committed to reducing poverty and inequality and the peak community services sector body, is calling out the Budget as reliant on temporary fixes and not permanent solutions.

ACOSS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Cassandra Goldie says the Budget ignores poverty, inequality and climate change and can’t be relied on.

“This budget is full of temporary fixes when we need permanent solutions,” says Dr Goldie.

“Much of the assistance goes to people who don’t need it, and too little goes to people who need support.

“One of the biggest spends in this budget is more tax cuts, such as the cuts to the fuel excise and the tax offset.

“Almost $3 billion goes to reducing the fuel excise, which offers little help at the bowser and would have been much better spent lifting income support and boosting social and affordable housing.

“The $450 one-off tax offset is overshadowed by the $16 billion annual tax cuts baked into the budget, most of which go to men on the highest incomes.”

While the Budget does include once-off $250 payments to people on the Disability Support Pension, other welfare recipients, veterans and eligible concession card holders due to be distributed in April, Dr Goldie says the payment will only help for a week or two.

“The budget does nothing to lift the incomes of people with the least,” she says.

“Whilst we welcome the extension of $250 bonus payment to people on pensions and allowances, when if you’re living on $46 a day this payment will help for a week or two, but people have to pay the rent 52 weeks a year.

“This is not a slash and burn budget, and we’re relieved that there are no big cuts that would hurt people with the least and the essential services they rely on.

“Unfortunately, although the government says this is a cost-of-living budget, it fails to deal with the biggest cost of living, which is housing. Perversely, its housing measures will very likely push up house prices and make housing affordability worse.

“This budget fails to deliver the investment in social housing needed to put a roof over the heads of people on low incomes.”

Requests for assistive technology scheme go unanswered

The Assistive Technology for All (ATFA) campaign were ramping up efforts to raise awareness of the lack of access for many Australians to funding for assistive technology before the Budget, but those calls were left unanswered.

Campaign Coordinator Lauren Henley says campaign members commend the Government for committing to fully funding the NDIS, but that the NDIS does not provide funding to all who need it.

“This scheme still only supports around 10 percent of people with disability across Australia and those who fall outside the scheme are missing out,” says Ms Henley.

“The Budget does not include any new measures to ensure people outside the NDIS will be able to access vital support like aids, equipment and home modifications when they need it.

“As a result, many people with disability, their families and carers will continue to fall through the cracks.”

Another member of ATFA, Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Australia, is also disappointed that the Budget misses an opportunity to improve equity of access to assistive technology for older Australians with MND and other disabilities who are not eligible for the NDIS due to their age.

MND Australia CEO David Ali says, “We were advocating for a central assistive technology program to ensure there are no costs and minimal waiting times for any AT people need. This initiative would have provided assistive technology supports to people – particularly those excluded from the NDIS – as and when they need it.”

Mr Ali adds that his organisation doesn’t believe the Budget’s additional funding for the NDIS over the next four years is sustainable and that, “the NDIS’ person-centred approach will be further diminished and not be able to adequately respond to the rapid disease progression of people with MND”.

The final missed opportunity that Mr Ali says the Budget should have covered is to improve equity of access between the NDIS and the Aged Care system to provide needs-based person centred in-home supports for all people with MND irrespective of age and location.

Research funding only positive in Budget

In the health and research space, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Australia is welcoming funding for research into the causes of MS, which affects more than 25,000 Australians.

A record $18 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) will go towards MS research and MS Australia Chair, Associate Professor Des Graham, says this comes on top of a $4 million grant opportunity announced in December for a clinical trial that tests nerve repair and protection therapeutics for MS.

“We have been advocating for increased funding for MS research because we are at a critical pivot point,” explains Associate Professor Graham.

“The past 15 years have seen the development of medications that can delay progression of the disease for the most common form of MS.

“However, we are yet to successfully repair and regenerate the damage to nerve cells in the progressive forms of MS. But we are getting closer and closer.

“We are optimistic that, if we can secure sufficient funding to supercharge MS research in Australia, we could see the decisive breakthroughs needed to put MS where it belongs – behind us.”

To read the full Budget outline, visit the Government’s Federal Budget 2022/23 website.