Why Australia needs the NDIS

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New disability sector worker Madam Butterfly explains why, as “…a nation, we should be backing the NDIS without question”.
'Every Australian Counts', NDIS rally, 30 April 2012.

Recently, I took that big leap from the corporate world into the non-for profit disability sector. My economic rationalist hat firmly welded on, I was expecting to bring some rigorous logic to the warm and fuzzy world of social welfare.

A new perspective arrived quickly, when I encountered story after story of individuals already facing multiple barriers. These barriers were compounded by isolation and poverty, and often having to navigate through a complex maze of services, referrals, and rigid bureaucracy that make up the grossly underfunded, fragmented and inefficient disability service sector.

For years, I had taken for granted that people formulated goals, no matter how modest. Most of us develop plans for the future, expect to work towards them and feel happy and validated by our achievements.

In the disability sector, however, I found people happy to just get by in survival mode. There’s a tacit acceptance that receiving those two showers a week and clean clothes are an achievement, and that the disability support pension was enough to show that the system cared for them.

The Human Rights charter states that
“…people who have a disability must be given the same opportunities and choices, and be included in the community in the same way as people without a disability”.

Choice is dignity; even affording people the right to take reasonable risks and make their own decisions on shaping their care, and their futures is dignity.  The charter also tells us it is,
“…unreasonable to unnecessarily restrict a persons’ right to independence”.

One of the great levellers for me was hearing about the parents of a severely disabled child, who were “thrilled” that they could cash in their superannuation in order to be able to purchase a specialized wheelchair and afford the modifications to their home to be able to provide greater mobility for their child. More money would make these choices easier, without the need to cash in retirement savings.

However, this debate is not limited to just “showers and wheelchairs”. It is about making the people with disabilities the owners and the drivers of their own destinies. It is about personal dignity.

The plan for a no-fault disability insurance scheme, along with the raft of mental health reforms proposed by the current Government, could have come at no better time.  There is a need to tackle the unsustainable “lottery” approach to quality disability services. This is most effective when intervention is early enough; when actions will make the impact of a disability on peoples’ lives as small as possible.

At the recent COAG meeting, the NDIS became a sticking point for many Premiers who turned their pockets inside out, crying poor. They cannot afford to co-fund the NDIS they tried to tell us. The subsequent fallout showed just how many of their opinions were driven by arguments about cost, with absolutely no recognition that the NDIS is an investment.

The reforms have come at a time where there is a real need for cultural change through a more diverse workforce, compounded by the need for increased productivity.

Australia is facing a large ageing population with decreased productivity and skills-shortages exacerbating the already burdened social service and health services sector. Underlying the current reforms is the premise that the best way to promote social inclusion is to ensure all those who want to work, can. The NDIS will free up thousands of carers (approximately 80,000) and will help transform the lives of people with disabilities who currently have one of the lowest workforce participation rates (Australia is ranked 21 in the OECD), it will also enable them to be better prepared to engage in the open workforce through being better supported. It will also help fuel cultural change through more socially inclusive and diverse workplaces.

We need to remember, most of those people with disabilities want to work; not just for money — it is about knowing you live a productive life.

Choosing not to invest in the NDIS is not only economically irresponsible, but it will also ensure that disability services remain largely crisis-driven, continuing to perpetuate inefficiency and drive Government costs even higher in the long run.

But in the end, arguments about investments and returns are secondary to the demands of human rights. Restoration of dignity through a people-centred service approach, that will allow people with disabilities to have greater control over decision-making, is essential. This will actually allow people to not only formulate goals and have aspirations; it will give them the satisfaction of being able to create their own path to achieve them by being able to participate in sustainable and supported employment suitable to their ability.

A reform such as this should transcend politics and bureaucracies.

As a nation, we should be backing the NDIS without question.

A participant of the NDIS, summed it up best when they stated:

“This scheme is for people with disability.

“Not service-providers. Not for Governments, not for empires or private agendas.

“This scheme is for people who are as individual as their fingerprints.”
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