Where are the other lifeboats? Services for people with disability outside the NDIS

Recently, the new Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Bill Shorten, echoed the widespread view that the NDIS ‘is the only lifeboat in the ocean for Australians who live with disability’ – that is, there is limited support for people with disability outside the NDIS.

Supports for people with disability outside the NDIS are often referred to as ‘Tier 2’ supports. The Productivity Commission in Volume 1 of its 2011 Disability Care and Support report proposed three tiers of the NDIS, envisaging Tier 2 as linkages with relevant services outside the NDIS, such as mainstream services and community support groups (p. 159). Tier 1 was conceptualised as encompassing the impact of the NDIS on all Australians, with this expected to include increased awareness of disability and better opportunities for people with disability; while Tier 3 was proposed to be individualised support packages just for NDIS participants.

The NDIS website states that the ‘NDIS can provide information and helps connect all people with disability, their families and carers to community and other government services’. However, questions remain about the extent of these services and whether they are affordable for people with disability.

Specific services for people outside the NDIS

Federal Government measures that are intended to address gaps in services for people with disability not eligible for the NDIS include:

  • The Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) program which, via the Department of Social Services, ‘provides funding to organisations to deliver projects in the community that benefit all Australians with disability, their carers and families’.
  • Government grants announced for specific organisations, whether in election campaigns or Federal Budgets.

The states and territories also fund programs for people with disability, although many of their previous programs have transitioned to the NDIS. For example:

The Disability Gateway provides links to information about services for people with disability in each state and territory. These services appear mostly to be available to people with NDIS funding or require people to pay for the services themselves, excluding programs funded by ILC grants.

Issues raised about services outside the NDIS

According to one article in Policy Forum, people with disability who are ineligible for the NDIS have lost access to services and supports that were block-funded previously by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. Further, there is ‘a gulf between the promoted availability and accessibility of support and services to people with disability without NDIS funding, and people’s experiences of trying to find and use them’. This gulf, the author argues, indicates that ‘investment in ILC is not meeting the needs of people with disability who are not NDIS participants’, leading to people with disability relying heavily on family support.

Much of the criticism about limited services outside the NDIS has suggested that the states and territories have almost entirely removed themselves from funding disability programs outside the NDIS (or had very little historical involvement in funding disability services to begin with). For example, Professor Bruce Bonyhady, the Director of the Melbourne Disability Institute, told the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS in April 2021 that ‘$40-something per person is the average funding for people in tier 2’ (p. 5).

It should be noted that the states and territories co-fund the NDIS with the Commonwealth, with state and territory contributions set out in bilateral agreements. In 2020–21, state and territory contributions amounted to $10.3 billion, while the Australian Government contributed $12.9 billion to participant supports.

Research recently completed by the Melbourne Disability Institute highlighted ‘a clear gap between what is promoted and what is happening in the interface between people with disability who are not NDIS participants and the NDIS’. The executive summary argued that support promised under ‘Tier 2’ has not been delivered, and found that being ‘in or out of the NDIS has a significant financial and personal impact on people with disability and their families’ (pp. 10, 12).

Looking forward

Recognition of limited funding and services for ‘Tier 2 supports’ is not new. The Independent Advisory Council to the NDIS in July 2021 in its Strengthening Scheme Reforms to Access and Planning paper proposed (pp. 13–14):

A funded commitment by all partner governments to a strong National Disability Strategy that… [i]ncludes increased funding and a co-design plan for a revitalised Tier 2 …

… It is proposed that 1% of total [National Disability Insurance Agency] expenditure on support be allocated for this purpose and be distributed locally across Australia in accordance with the population of people with disabilities.

The new Minister for the NDIS also flagged in June 2022 that he was planning to consider, with the states and territories, how more support could be provided for people with disability not eligible for the NDIS:

[W]hat I'm going to say to the states is all levels of government have a responsibility to make sure that all Australians, if they have an impairment, get a fair crack at things. So, yes, in some cases, ask the states to do more. But by the same token, as a federal government, we want to run the scheme better.

With more than 4.4 million Australians having a disability in 2018 – or 17.7% of the population – but only around 519,000 Australians being NDIS participants, there is widespread consensus that the NDIS cannot be the ‘only lifeboat in the ocean’. Consensus on who should fund the other lifeboats, however, is yet to emerge.

Tags: disability, NDIS


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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