Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Stuart Robert addressed the National Press Club in Canberra for the first time last Thursday, admitting the NDIS is not up to scratch and there is a need for future improvement.
His inaugural speech at the National Press Club was to announce the new plans to deliver the best NDIS possible.
The plan was developed with advice from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), the Department of Social Services, roundtables with peak disability organisations, advocates and service providers, and people with disability, their families and carers.
“The idea was to see people with disability live life to their full potential through a national scheme that would allow them to participate in the community to get a job if able, and have greater independence,” says Minister Robert.
“And so the NDIS was born for Australians with permanent and significant disability. A scheme based on insurance principles and participant choice and control that would help people with disability realise their social and economic potential.
“A world first, a truly national endeavour, that is changing lives. But the Government is under no illusions. The journey of rolling out this national endeavour has not and will not always be easy.
“The image of a plane taking off while still being built remains an apt description. I have frequently said we are about 80 percent there, with 20 percent left to go. And the last 20 percent is often the hardest.”
The Minister says while the NDIS has had a profound impact on the lives with people with disability, he has also heard stories of the NDIS not living up to expectations.
Figures from the NDIS Quarterly Report for 2019-20 shows there are currently 310,000 participants with an NDIS plan.
Minister Robert is confident that the scheme will reach 500,000 participants in the next five years.
The plan is expected to be a guide over the next 12 to 24 months and set in place future intentions for the NDIS.
“We will take a flexible yet determined approach to implementation, guided always by people with disability, their families, carers and other stakeholders along the way,” says Minister Robert.
“As I said at the outset, this is a truly national endeavour, a world-first, once in a generation reform, the largest social reform this country has seen since the introduction of Medicare.
“It will take the hard work and dedication of all Australians working together to ensure the NDIS delivers for people with disability, their families and carers.”
Minister Robert described the Government’s NDIS six lane plan to improve the scheme over the next few years.
Lane 1 - Quicker access and quality decision making
A concern of many people with disability is the long wait times when accessing and receiving a NDIS plan.
The Government promised the NDIS Participant Service Guarantee at the election to set a service timeframe for NDIA service delivery, which is currently being reviewed to find ways to streamline the process and cut red tape for participants and providers.
Minister Stuart says the NDIS Participant Service Guarantee will commence from 1 July 2020.
Minister Stuart also stated there are currently no backlogs or delays in getting access into the NDIS.
To reduce requests for plan reviews, the NDIS will rollout a joint planning meetings system and draft plan summaries from April 2020.
Lane 2 - Increased engagement and collaboration
The Government has committed an additional $20 million over two years to further expand the Community Connectors program to Australians with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.
“I have heard first hand that a person’s experience of the NDIS is often determined by where they live, their education, socio-economic status and/or support networks,” says Minister Robert.
This expansion will include a virtual community connector support service and referral pathway, known as NDIS Carer Connect.
Lane 3 - Market innovation and improved technology
The Government is intending to trial initiatives in the thin disability support market by reducing administrative burdens on NDIS participants and providers when interacting with NDIA technology.
This involves NDIA Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), currently in development, to provide integration with the NDIA Business System in realtime.
But to expand the market, it also requires an improvement in the NDIS workforce, with the Government aiming to add a further 90,000 workers over the next five years.
Of those new jobs, 71 percent will be support worker roles, 12 percent allied health service roles, 11 percent case and social worker roles and 6 percent managerial roles.
Additionally, the Government will work with State and Territory Governments to finalise the national NDIS Workforce Strategy by the middle of 2020.
Lane 4 - A financially sustainable scheme
Minister Robert says the NDIS is a massive undertaking, so the Government needs to ensure the financial sustainability of the scheme.
The implementation of the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) Strategy and National Disability Strategy are the Governments key frameworks to ensure sustainability.
Along with these frameworks is a commitment for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Disability Reform Council (DRC) to meet every 90 days to discuss any issues across Federal, State and Territory jurisdictions.
Lane 5 - Equitable and consistent decisions
To improve the assessment tools and their impact on a person with disability and their daily life, the NDIA will re-commence the Independent Assessment Pilot in the Nepean Blue Mountains at the end of November.
The pilot was rolled out in late 2018 to better understand the impact of disability for people seeking NDIS support.
The participants expressed satisfaction with the assessment, which resulted in improved decision making and plan outcomes.
If this next pilot is completed to Government’s satisfaction, it will be rolled out across the NDIA from 1 July 2020.
Minister Robert also announced that the NDIS will release quarterly reports on what is working and what challenges need to be rectified to ensure the longevity of the scheme.
Lane 6 - Improve long term outcomes
While there has been growth in community and social participation by people with disability who entered the NDIS between July - September 2016, there has not been an increase in work participation, which remained stagnant at around 24-25 percent entry into employment.
To combat this 1 percent increase in employment participation, Minister Robert has released the NDIS Participant Employment Strategy.
The strategy aims to have 30 percent of NDIS participants in paid employment by 2023.
Another long term outcome for the Government is a review of the Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) Pricing and Payments Framework.
Also recently released are the new SDA Design Standards, the SDA limited cost assumptions review, and a new SDA Innovation Plan.
Additionally, people who are SDA eligible participants may be able to live in shared housing arrangements with friends or family that are not SDA eligible.
Minister Robert says he will write to State and Territory counterparts to implement this recommendation.
Another highlighted important outcome is the reduction of younger people with disability in residential aged care.
Minister Robert says the NDIS and SDA impact is reducing the number of people entering aged care.
He adds that between March 2017 and June 2019, the number of younger people in aged care decreased from 6,287 to 5,606, which is an 11 percent decrease.
Minister Robert admitted this number is still too high, however, the Government will continue to listen to recommendations from the Aged Care Royal Commission on this issue.
Peak bodies appreciate Government’s new plan, more room for improvement
Romola Hollywood, Director, Policy and Advocacy at People with Disability Australia (PWDA) says the organisation appreciates that Minister Roberts has admitted that people with disability are facing difficulties accessing the NDIS for help.
“We were really pleased to see the move to a single point of contact for people with disability, draft plans, some flexibility around the different funding ‘buckets’ and a recognition that there are barriers to accessing the NDIS for many people with disability,” says Ms Hollywood.
“The announcement of the second pilot of NDIA functional assessors will go some way to reducing these access barriers, which can include the cost and availability of getting the information needed.”
Ms Hollywood pointed out that there has been no movement on the staffing cap, which is a significant driver of many delay problems people with disability are finding with the NDIS.
The major reviews going on in the sector have PWDA, and many other organisations and people with disability, feeding into the reviews for the best outcome.
“We know that the Minister is keen to introduce a Participant Service Guarantee to legislate timeframes for getting access to the scheme, plans approved and reviews assessed,” says Ms Hollywood.
“However, it is vital that the Participant Service Guarantee improves the quality of the experience of people with disability have with the NDIS and puts us at the heart of the NDIS.”