Independent information and advocacy services supporting people with disability, older people, their families and carers across New South Wales (NSW) could be facing closure as a result of funding ‘reshuffling’ from the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Among the independent services at risk is Information on Disability Education and Awareness Services (IDEAS), based in Tumut but serving nationwide, who, after 30 years of service, are taking matters into their own hands in the form of meetings with ministers, letters written and petition signings.
Currently, the NSW government provides approximately $13 million annually to a number of advocacy, information and representation support organisations for people with disability, but, following the introduction of the NDIS, the NSW government has announced they will cut funding for these disability advocacy and service providers in June this year - leaving services like IDEAS in danger of closing.
IDEAS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Diana Palmer, says the funding received by the organisation through the NSW government goes towards providing free, accurate, unbiased and unconflicted information for people with disability.
She adds that the formation of the petition is just one of a “number of activities” carried out by IDEAS to ask the NSW government to reverse their decision on funding cuts for disability organisations like theirs.
“If funding is discontinued, then some of Australia’s most vulnerable people will be left without choice, representation and opportunities in life,” Ms Palmer explains.
“IDEAS is not alone in being affected by the proposed funding cuts… in NSW alone there are 50 groups of advocacy and information providers who receive funding from the NSW government.
“If the NSW government doesn’t reverses its decision to de-fund IDEAS in June 2018, Australians with disability, older people, carers and families will no longer have access to the information they need to make informed life decisions.
“This lack of information and advocacy funding will create huge gaps in representation for the rights and interests of people with disability in NSW.
“Under NDIS, it will be very difficult for people with disability to make informed choices about how they want to live their lives, and access the services they need anywhere in the state.
“The $6 billion in funds that have been allocated to the NDIS do not in any way have a discrete budget line for independent information or advocacy services as part of a plan for people living with disability in NSW.”
As well as resulting in the end of a number of services offered to 1.2 million people in NSW, the closure of IDEAS would also mean the loss of numerous jobs, including 27 employees with disability.
Despite the concerns raised by IDEAS, NSW Minister for Disability Services has defended the NDIS, saying that the funding structure will result in an increase in funding for disability advocacy groups.
“The Commonwealth will provide around $130 million each year to connect people with disability to support services…[this] is on top of the $10.6 million the NSW government has provided for advocacy services during the transitioning to the the full scheme.
“As a result, there will be more funding available for disability advocacy services than ever before.”
Since it kicked off in November, IDEAS’ petition has already received 2,000 signatures of support, and some positive feedback for their organisation and services.
One of the petitioners is Martin Heng who criticised the risk being put to IDEAS and other services like it by the NSW government funding decision.
“The NDIS is supposed to be about giving people with a disability choice and control, but what good is the freedom to choose without the information on which to base an informed choice?” he explains.
“Neither the NDIS nor the NSW government is currently funding advocacy and information services, such as those offered by IDEAS, an organisation that has been serving the disabled community by providing independent, unbiased advocacy and information services for decades.”
Ms Palmer says so far, IDEAS is “happy” with the progress of the petition and their other activities so far, but adds that more signatures are needed and welcomed.
“The more signatures that the petition receives, then the more armoury we have to go to the NSW government to ask for continued funding,” she explains.
“We have received lots of positive feedback [and] IDEAS is hopeful that the petition and the additional awareness building and lobbying activity that we have participated in will encourage the NSW government to continue advocacy and independent information funding for ongoing support for people with disability and older people.
“Continued funding would mean so much for both the employees at IDEAS and also the people who we service - the 27 people with disability currently employed by IDEAS will continue to serve people with disability [and] people with disability and older people will have ongoing access to independent, unbiased information to make the choices in their lives that suit them.”
More information on the IDEAS petition can be found online.