The reform of Australia’s Disability Employment Services (DES) designed to give people with disability the opportunity to find meaningful paid work has come under fire from national disability organisations.
Effective on 1 July 2018, the reform lead by the Federal Government has seen advocates speak out about the program’s absence of choice and individual assistance that people with disability were originally promised.
Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People with Disability Australia, Therese Sands speaking on behalf of Disabled People's Organisations Australia (DPO Australia), says over $800 million per year is being spent “propping up” a program that is not successfully helping people with disability get paid work.
“We have repeatedly raised concerns about DES reforms and the missed opportunity to create a successful employment support system for people with disability,” she says.
Ms Sands also notes a little more than 1 in 10 people entering the program had found work and stayed in employed in that job for at least 12 months.
“Nationally 53 percent of people with disability of working age are in paid work, compared to 83 percent of their non-disabled peers. This huge employment gap has not changed over the last twenty years,” she says.
CEO of Australian Network of Disability (AND) Suzanne Colbert says the reforms have bought positive aspects, including an increased focus on sustainable jobs, continued funding for workplace adjustments through the Employment Assistance Fund and support for employees to maintain their employment through the Work Assist program.
However, these reforms have also been met with concern.
“Sadly the views of people with disability and employers have been overlooked in these new reforms and we fear the new system will make it harder for employers to recruit people with disability,” Ms Colbert says.
CEO of Inclusion Australia, Paul Cain holds “grave concerns” for the program and its ability to allow people with disability to exercise informed choice when seeking employment.
He says although the Federal Budget funding of $10 million intended to address a 31 percent funding cut to jobseekers with intellectual disability over two years is welcome, worries remain.
“It does not alleviate our fundamental concern that the DES reforms introduce a disincentive for any provider to seek jobseekers with high support needs and offer the required level of support to help them find and keep a job,” Mr Cain says.
He also notes the funding model appears to contradict the Government’s intention to increase National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants by reducing funding for people with disability most likely to qualify for the NDIS.
“As we know 65 percent of current NDIS plans are for people with intellectual disability and autism,” Mr Cain says.
A 2016 report from the Australian Human Rights Commission titled Willing to Work called for a national strategy dedicated to addressing structural barriers to employment for people with disability, including discrimination, negative employer attitudes and lack of accessibility.
“Instead of the comprehensive recommendations of the Willing to Work enquiry, the Government is going ahead with piecemeal and flawed reforms to the DES system,” Ms Sands says.
She says national disability organisations will continue to monitor and “remain committed” to working with Government to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.
For more information on disability support and services, please visit DisabilitySupportGuide.com.au