‘Ticking time-bomb’ — advocates decry digital disability support platforms

Posted 9 months ago by David McManus
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The widespread online growth of digital disability support services is a grave concern for the Brotherhood of St Laurence. (Source: Shutterstock)
The widespread online growth of digital disability support services is a grave concern for the Brotherhood of St Laurence. (Source: Shutterstock)

Key points:

  • Amidst calls from National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Minister Bill Shorten to reform support services in Australia, the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) is voicing concerns over worker and client protection
  • BSL says new findings suggest that increasing access to support may reduce the benefits for NDIS recipients
  • During the qualitative research study, participants were rarely able to clarify the duties and responsibilities of their support services

 

Social justice and advocacy organisation, the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) reveals some digital disability support platforms may be increasing accessibility at the cost of adequate care and the rights of workers.

BSL research highlights the need for Federal Government intervention to improve oversight and rework regulation in order to provide for those within the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) system. The report, Support Online: User Experiences of Digital Platforms in the NDIS Market, examines existing research and the experiences of digital platform users.

The BSL Social Policy and Research Centre addresses the rate at which NDIS care recipients and workers are becoming reliant on online networks. The increasing reliance on software to connect carers of people with disability to those seeking support means that the quality and safety of care, along with the nature of work, is potentially leaning towards a diluted, ‘gig-economy’ model.

The report includes insight from support workers, people with disability and carers, emphasising the ease of access for finding support through platforms such as Kynd and Like Family. However, the BSL research points to gaps emerging in market-disrupting digital platforms regarding regulatory protections .

According to the research, many support workers who are connected to people with a disability via an online platform are drawn from marginalised groups and are prone to high levels of burnout and turnover. They are classified as independent contractors by the platforms, meaning they are not entitled to a range of protections. These include minimum wage requirements, limits on hours of work, paid leave, protections for unfair dismissal and collective bargaining rights.

By classifying employees as independent contractors, platforms also devolve responsibility for compliance with workplace health and safety laws to the support worker and, potentially, the person with a disability using the service. Similar concerns have been raised regarding rideshare and delivery services such as Uber.

Nearly all of the BSL research participants say that they are unclear about their obligations and responsibilities regarding workplace safety and what to do if something went wrong. Most interviewees express that they rely upon the platforms directly to handle difficulties which they are incapable of addressing.

Report findings show that NDIS pricing for support work doesn’t sufficiently cover the full costs of care, including the provision of worker training. The BSL states that this is contributing to a poorly trained workforce and jeopardising the quality of care provided.

Support online co-author Andrew Thies is calling on the Federal Government to review and implement regulatory changes to improve the platform experience and ensure the welfare of users is a priority.

“The lack of regulation and oversight of digital disability support platforms in Australia is currently a ticking time-bomb,” he says.

“The Federal Government must implement safeguards and urgently clarify the roles and responsibilities of platforms and workers to ensure the services are both fair and safe for all that use them.”

To access the report and its findings, please visit the BSL publication portal via the link.