It seems hard to believe, but another Quarterly Report is already upon us. It just goes to show if you publish a March report in June, people will soon become impressed when your subsequent reports are published in a timely fashion. That’s expectations management, NDIA style.
This report marks the end of the NDIS’s fifth year. Don't they grow up so fast? But in all seriousness, the five-year mark is a great opportunity to reflect on how far the Scheme has come (or failed to come) to date.
5 Years of NDIS
First off, Happy Birthday NDIS!
After 5 years:
183,965 Participants are in the Scheme. This is just 74% of the Bilateral Estimates for this time (but there’s no need to be a party pooper).
There are 16,755 registered providers. Only 50% of them are active (but again, shhh!).
The NDIS is fully operational in NSW, SA and the ACT. This means that anyone in these States and Territories is now able to seek access to the Scheme.
The first regions of WA are now in the Scheme. Welcome guys, we hope you enjoy the ride.
1 in 3 NDIS Participants are new to disability supports. This is truly something to be excited about, it is the type of life changing difference that we were promised by the NDIS.
The report proudly states that the Scheme is still in line to meet its full rollout projections of $22bn annually. Indeed, the NDIS has come under budget in every year of its operations. This might be a surprise to some of you, either because you read the Murdoch press or follow how the Agency fights tooth and nail at AAT hearings to avoid spending those extra few dollars. But being under budget in the first 5 years is no small feat for a fledgling government program. And while we would never want them to take their eye of the prize of financial sustainability, it might be a good idea for the NDIA to relax just that tiny bit. Financially speaking, things seem to be going A-Okay.
There is a significant focus on Participant diversity in this report. This is really good to see, as reaching communities that are harder to access is crucial to the success of the NDIS’ mission. The report notes that the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participants in the Scheme is in line with expectations at 6.4%. However, the proportion of culturally and linguistically diverse Participants (9.3%) and Participants with psychosocial disabilities (10%), while both having risen significantly in the last quarter, are still lower than anticipated for this point in time. Specialised Participant Pathways are in the pipeline for both of these groups. Hopefully, these will go some way to addressing the issues. It is certainly a good start that the NDIA is now (finally!) providing planning information in multiple languages.
Community Engagement for People Over 25
Increasing the social and economic engagement of people with disability is one of the central premises of the NDIS. Yet the report paints a slightly troubling picture of Participant engagement in the community, particularly for people over 25. Participants in this age group are of higher risk of isolation, as they have left the social school environment and are more likely to have ageing parents with less capacity to provide community engagement support. Therefore, it is worrying to see that in this age group:
Only 25% of Participants have paid jobs.
Only 36% of Participants have been involved in a community, cultural or religious groups.
27% say they have no friends (outside of family and paid staff).
75% want more choice and control in their own lives.
24% report feeling unsafe in their home.
All this demonstrates how much work the NDIS still has to do in order to ensure adults with disability are fully engaged in the community. Yet one promising takeaway is that we now have a dataset from which we can measure progress and, hopefully, watch change slowly begin to emerge.
Plan utilisation rates refer to the percentage of funds that get written into plans that actually get spent. Last quarter, we discussed the importance of plan utilisation rates as an indicator of the health of the NDIS marketplace. Then, the rates were prefaced with the disclaimer that we did not yet have a full picture for the year.
We do now. The Quarterly Report shows that plan utilisation is sitting at just 64%. This is a far cry short of the 80-95% recommended by the Productivity Commission. The report argues that the low rate is due to the significant number of Participants on first Plans. However, what is troubling is that the trajectory has been downwards for the last four years. This could either indicate that there is a shortage of providers or that Participants are struggling to understand their Plans. Either way, we potentially have a very, very big problem on our hands.
Finally, let’s talk about the market. It is always important to know your competition (or partners, I suppose). The reports show that Participants are now starting to use 1.61 providers on average, which is up from 1.53. This is a good thing. But what is less good is that only half of all registered providers are active. This rate has been strangely consistent over the last couple of years. Let’s hope it starts to pick up soon, as a healthy market is essential for Participant outcomes.
But there are some areas of provider growth. The most significant growth areas are:
Innovative community participation: 29%
Vision equipment: 28%
Interpreting and translation: 25% (I really hope this makes booking Auslan interpreters somewhat easier).
A Bone to Pick
Before you go, I have a little bone to pick with the Y5 Q4 Quarterly Report. It features 4 quotes: 3 from parents and only 1 representing the voice of Participants. The perspective of parents and carers is very important, of course, but couldn’t these numbers just be reversed? This might seem incredibly trivial, but if the NDIA can’t get representation right, who can? One of the founding principles of the NDIS, as listed in the Act, is that "people with disability have the same right as other members of Australian society to be able to determine their own best interests." The least a report can do is give them a platform.
However, I will grant them that some of the pictures are truly top-notch. For example:
That’s all from Quarter 4 folks. As we said last time, we do highly recommend that you read the report for yourself. There is a lot of State-specific information that we have not even begun to cover. So make yourself a cup of tea, add a dash of whiskey if that is your thing, and get reading! Otherwise, we will see you again in (approximately) three months time.
You can find the Quarterly Reports here: https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/information-publications-and-reports/quarterly-reports