Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcement of the Federal Budget 2019-20 had disability advocates overjoyed at Royal Commission funding but worried for the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
The confirmed announcement of $528 million in funding will be allocated to the delivery of a Royal Commission into the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability was soured with word unspent NDIS funds may be used to ensure a budget surplus, a key focus of Federal Budget 2019-20.
Among the announcements is a seven-year commitment to improving Australia’s mental health across a number of initiatives.
What’s in the budget for people with disability?
$528 million over five years to fund a Royal Commission into the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability
$737 million over seven years for mental health, including $461 million to help young people. This funding will reduce waitlists for youth mental health services, address youth suicide and provide a range of new community support services. The mental health funding includes $152 million for the National Headspace Network to reduce waiting lists, $111.3 million to provide 30 new headspace services, $109.7 million to extend the Early Psychosis Youth Services program and $114.5 million to trial eight adult mental health centres.
Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People with Disability Australia (PWDA) and member of Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia) Matthew Bowden welcomes the Federal Budget funding priorities, especially the Royal Commission allocation.
“We know that for people with disability to finally get the justice they deserve, the Royal Commission will need to come with a variety of essential supports and accessibility.
“The Royal Commission must have this funding to make sure that different people with disability have their needs met, based on their personal circumstances, including age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, intersex status and ethnicity, acknowledging the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability.”
Chair of the National Disability and Carers Alliance (the organisation behind Every Australian Counts), Leah van Poppel was overjoyed at the news.
“This is a Royal Commission that must not only bring about decisive government and legal action – it must result in broader social change to ensure people with disability are able to live the lives they deserve, free from the fear of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
“Violence and abuse should always be above politics.
“This funding will allow the inquiry to be broad-ranging, take the time it needs to fully investigate issues, and allow people with disability and their families to get the appropriate support to take part,” Ms van Poppel says.
However, this has been soured by the level of underspending in the delivery of the NDIS.
“The almost $4 billion underspend of NDIS funds is a national disgrace, and we completely oppose the spending of these funds anywhere but on people with disability,” Mr Bowden says.
“People with disability come to us every day in despair because they can’t access the NDIS, their funding packages have been cut or they aren’t getting the supports they urgently need. Where is this money going, if it’s not being spent making sure that people with disability can have the supports they need for an equal life?”
“Staffing for the NDIS remains just over 3,000, predicted to reach 3,230 in 2019-20.
“As people wait for months to have their access requests and reviews assessed, the Government has failed to even meet its own target of 3,700.
“The cap must be removed altogether so we are not left in limbo, sometimes at risk of harm and even death,” Mr Bowden says.
“It’s disappointing the Government hasn’t been more transparent about the level of underspending for the NDIS this year. We are unable to confirm the exact amount,” Acting CEO of National Disability Services David Moody says.
“However, we note that the Government’s contribution to the scheme next year is $1.6 billion less than expected.
“The NDIS is a transformative social reform won through the united efforts of people with disability, their families and carers and providers across Australia.
“That’s why our sector expects funds allocated to the NDIS to be invested in the scheme, and not be absorbed into general revenue for other government programs or to fund a surplus.”
Director of Every Australian Counts Kirsten Deane says NDIS funds must be spent on the NDIS, not bolstering the budget bottom line.
“The NDIS has been underspent since its inception. This is a direct result of problems with the way the scheme is being implemented. People are waiting too long to enter the scheme – and once they do they are waiting too long for support.
“Most people in the NDIS are not spending all the funding allocated to them because they cannot work their way through the bureaucratic maze that is the NDIS to get the help they need. They are desperate for help and support – they just can’t get it.
“We have been holding forums across Australia and talking to thousands of NDIS participants, their families and carers. We know this money is urgently needed to fix the scheme and get it working the way it should so people aren’t left waiting for two years to get a wheelchair.
Ms Deane says this simply cannot continue and urgent changes must be made to ensure the Scheme works the way it is intended.
“Funds tagged for the NDIS should be spent on the NDIS. The underspend should be used to support people with disability and their families and fix up problems with the scheme – not returned to government coffers.
“Let’s be clear – we are not asking for more. We are simply asking for the funds allocated to the NDIS to be spent on the NDIS – not just quietly disappear. That’s what people with disability expect and deserve.
“The NDIS must run like a real insurance scheme – where money not spent is put away for a rainy day or invested back into the scheme to get it working the way it should.
“This money should be spent on the people who desperately need it most – people with disability, their families and carers,” she says.
Mr Bowden also highlights problems with Newstart.
“We are disappointed yet again to see that the Federal Government has not listened to the 30 percent of people trying to survive on Newstart who have disability and/or illness, and lift them out of poverty.
“Newstart needs to be raised by $75 per week urgently.”
More support is also needed with women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability were looking to this Federal Budget to outline how to address the multiple barriers to our participation within our own communities and the wider community,” CEO of First Peoples Disability Network Australia,” Damian Griffis says.
“Our research shows that there is a higher rate of disability among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that those people experience higher rates of disadvantage. We wanted to see strong recognition of our expertise and resources to address the barriers we face accessing the NDIS.”
While, Executive Director, Women With Disabilities Australia Carolyn Frohmader highlights that although 37 percent of NDIS participants are female, the gender makes up the majority of people living with disability in Australia.
“This is unfair, and shows that more investment is needed to get the NDIS working fairly for women with disability.
“The employment statistics for women with disability have seen no improvement over the last two decades, showing how much we need targeted measures to provide a pathway out of poverty for women with disability.
“In addition, it is imperative that the Royal Commission fully investigate domestic violence against women with disability, who experience 37.8% higher rates than their non-disabled peers,” Ms Frohmader says.
You can read through the Federal Budget at budget.gov.au.