Craig Wallace, President of People with Disability Australia, has told a Parliamentary Library Lecture that poverty for people with disabilities in Australia will not be overcome by changes to the system of income support. Instead, he argued, Australia should commit to a national challenge to create jobs for people with disabilities over the next decade.
Mr Wallace argued that ‘Australia has a troubling record on jobs on disability’:
We rank 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability. We rank 27th of the 27 in terms of the correlation between disability and poverty.
45 percent of people with a disability live in, or near, poverty; that is more than double the OECD average of 22 percent.
How do we fix Australia's poor performance in the area of disability employment? According to Mr Wallace, reforming the Disability Support Pension (DSP) will not make a difference because (in his words):
- it does not create a single job
- it does not support employers to create jobs
- it does not make workplaces accessible or remove discrimination
- it does not give people more skills or resilience and
- it certainly doesn't create better employer attitudes.
Instead, he argued, Australia needs to consider more innovative approaches and to set a target for numbers of jobs to be created. His view is that a target of around 200,000 additional jobs (20,000 per year for 10 years) is 'reasonable' but requires 'policy ambition':
It needs big ideas and a joined up project that ideally should be led by First Ministers through COAG.
Mr Wallace then proposed a number of ‘big ideas to start with’.
These included a proposal for giving greater responsibility for disability employment to the States, Territories and local government ('the most exciting and innovative work on jobs has happened in the States—an area where they have no mandate').
Mr Wallace also suggested making disability employment services more like the NDIS so that people can unbundle supports and directly purchase employment related services, workplace modifications and other assistance.
He also argued for a public sector employment target in the Australian Public Service (‘in Australia things have gotten so bad that they need a kick start). On a related note he proposed that members of Federal Parliament commit to hiring people with disabilities to work in their parliamentary or electorate offices, saying 'even if everybody did it would only mean 226 jobs but what an effective way to walk the talk to show every constituent, bureaucrat and lobbyist who deals with their representatives, that this time we are serious and here is what employees with disabilities can do'.
However, Mr Wallace does not support mandatory private sector employment targets, suggesting that they would be ‘counterproductive and we’d be arguing about them to the crack of doom’.
Mr Wallace also proposed making it financially worthwhile to work by, for example, allowing people taking on entry level positions to retain the DSP for a period of at least six months ('people with disabilities can add up. If we're using taxis every day—people I know pay over $60 a day—we can work out that it is more expensive to travel to a base level job than to stay at home').
Further ideas included:
- Disability Employment Services should be given a broader brief to 'work across people's lives' to build the social connections, resilience and capacity necessary to find and maintain employment
- establishment of an innovation fund along the lines of funds in the US to enable trials of new approaches
- government sponsored 'career exploration' for people with disabilities so that they can discover what their needs, capabilities and capacities are and
- greater support for developing 'soft skills' through volunteering.
Mr Wallace ended by noting that far too little is known about key questions such as what employers think and what might change people's behaviour, why people fail and what enables some to succeed. Further, Australia does not have up-to-date figures for employment rates of people with disabilities, unlike the US which has monthly comparable figures.
For a copy/recording of the presentation, see the Parliamentary Library seminars and lectures webpage.