From NDIS cost reviews to a new jobs programme, what is the disability budget?

Between major revisions to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and new employment initiatives, disability was a key part of this year’s federal budget.

But now the dust has settled, the salient questions, particularly about the NDIS, don’t focus on the specifics that were in the papers, they’re about what wasn’t.

Here are the main foods.

NDIS ‘growth moderation’

It’s been a massive few months for the scheme, with a major review handed down in December recommending sweeping changes and the government introducing bills to kick-start that process.

Budget 2024 papers say the government expects these changes to “offset increases in NDIS payments” to the extent of 14.4 trillion dollars over the next four years. The government is not calling this a saving, but “growth moderation”.

The government says spending on the scheme is now forecast to rise to $60.7 billion by 2027-28 and, thanks to its action, annual growth is forecast to 9.2 percent.

The government last year announced an annual growth target of 8 percent in an effort to contain costs. At that time, annual expenses had increased by approx 14 percent.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten spoke about the measures on ABC’s afternoon news programme, which you can watch in full below.

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Shorten says “two practical changes” will help deliver 95 per cent of the projected $14.4 billion figure.

Roughly two-thirds of those savings, he says, will come from tightening them “inflation within the plan” when a participant’s plan is used up faster than the period agreed upon, which may then lead to a top-up.

The rest comes from the implementation of the NDIS review proposal to change the way participants’ budgets are determined.

“What we want to do is hire trained evaluators and we want to look at a person’s total needs. And instead of building a plan brick by brick, we look at a person’s overall needs and give them a budget, he says.

“We estimate that it will actually save money.”

Mr Shorten told attendees the government remained committed to the scheme, saying “it will grow in numbers and we are increasing investment, but … we need to get it to a more reasonable level of growth”.

He emphasized that the move to a needs-based assessment would be co-designed with the disability community.

El is sitting at a desk with a pen in hand and paper in front of her.  She has gray hair and wears dark rimmed glasses.

El Gibbs says people with disabilities need to know exactly how the budget will affect them.(Supplied: By Gibbs)

Talk of change has sparked fears in the disability community that it could come at the expense of supporting people.

El Gibbs, acting CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, says many people with disabilities are concerned about how the budget will affect them.

“The NDIS is an essential public service for disabled people and families, providing life-changing and life-saving support every day,” she says.

“The Budget has revealed major changes to the scheme … just as the NDIS review and the disability royal commission have shown how far from equal or inclusive we are. We must not see our essential support cut or excluded our continuous support from the community”.

The government has also pledged An additional $468.7 million for the scheme over four years, which includes more funding for fraud prevention, as well as an “evidence advisory committee” to provide advice on the types of support that work for participants.

There is also 129.8 million dollars over two years for consultation work to respond to the findings of the NDIS review.

Basic support was recently the focus of a political clash between the federal and state governments.

A pledge of 11.6 million dollars over two years went into creating a “fundamental support strategy” in the 2023-24 mid-year budget update.

The government says the national cabinet will consider that strategy later this year, with an investment in the supporters themselves to be “detailed in future economic updates”.

Ms Gibbs says there needs to be fundamental support before any changes to the scheme come into force.

There is more to the NDIS than that 649,000 participantsaccording to the most recent quarterly report, however the vast majority of the 4.4 million disabled Australians are not on the scheme.

A renewal of the employment service

One of the biggest challenges for people with disabilities continues to be finding and keeping a job.

The unemployment rate of persons with disabilities of working age is twice that of those without disabilities.

The Budget aims to address this with a new disability employment programme, at a cost of $227.6 million over five yearsto replace the existing Disability Employment Services (DES) by July next year.

“The new program will require a culture change in employment services for persons with disabilities,” the announcement states.

When disabled people join DES agencies, they are expected to be supported to complete job applications, prepare for interviews and undertake relevant training.

But advocates have long had questions about their effectiveness, as some people have been with these agencies for long periods without results.

Concerns have also been raised that the model is more helpful to providers than people with disabilities, while a report by the disability royal commission found that the DES was not providing adequate support.

The government has also set a price $23.3 million over four years for the establishment of a new center of excellence for the employment of persons with disabilities.

He says the centre, which was an election promise, will provide information and training so that employment services can provide a better service.

Disability Australia president Marayke Jonkers says the measures don’t go far enough.

“There’s confusion at the fringes of employment for people with disabilities, but we’ve been calling for radical change. We haven’t seen that,” she says.

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“It is not clear how the Government will support the transition to open employment for all disabled people. We remain concerned that the measures announced tonight could continue to reinforce segregated employment and deny disabled people limit access to key opportunities.”

What else is there and not in the budget?

First, here’s what was involved.

A An additional $2.6 million is set aside for the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline and Complaint Resolution and Referral Service. They facilitate confidential reporting of abuse and receive complaints about disability services outside the NDIS.

Now for what was not included at least officially.

Advocates were disappointed there was no clear mention of funding for the government’s response to the disability royal commission, which concluded last September after more than four years of hearings.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth did not respond to questions about whether the budget had money for the royal commission response, but said the Commonwealth had been “working closely with states and territories to form a position on the 85 joint recommendations”.

She reiterated that governments still aim to provide an initial response by mid-2024.

Some people had also hoped for a Disability Support Pension (DSP) boost.

While the budget included some cost of living and Centrelink-related measures, the DSP was unaffected.

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Image Source : www.abc.net.au

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