What Does The Federal Budget Mean For The Disability Sector?

If you missed the live presentation of the 2019-20 federal budget last Tuesday then let me just say from the outset: that is 100% understandable. Married At First Sight was on Channel 9 and we all have to live our truth. Yet, as you may have heard, it was actually quite a big one for our sector. But never fear, by the end of this article, you will be up to date on what the budget entailed for the disability community.

One thing to bear in mind is that there will be an election in May. If the Opposition wins, then the current government will not have the opportunity to legislate on their budget. So we will also be covering relevant parts of the Opposition’s budget reply speech. Truthfully, it is hard to know what will happen into the future. They say that a week is a long time in politics; well a financial year is perhaps an eternity.

 

NDIS Underspend

One of the biggest stories to come out of the federal budget has been the return to surplus. But where does this extra money come from? As you have probably heard, 23% of the $7.1bn surplus comes from our very own NDIS. The budget revealed that there was a $3.8 billion underspend in NDIS spending over the last financial year. Naturally, many disability advocacy groups and service providers were quite irate upon learning this. The implementation of the NDIS has not exactly been a smooth sailing ship. $3.8bn could have gone a long way.  In the background of every reasonable and necessary or access battle that the Agency has fought tooth and nail over, there was $3.8bn just waiting to be withdrawn.

But what’s worse, over the next year the NDIS will receive $1.6bn less than what was expected. The government claims the money is being withdrawn due to the slower than expected transition of people into the Scheme. However, advocacy groups have rightly pointed that roll out issues are the cause of the low number of Participants, not lack of demand. Cutting from the NDIS is great for the budget’s bottom line, but it misses a golden opportunity to fix some of the issues plaguing the Scheme and creates a very dangerous precedent for future governments.   On the plus side, it has resulted in some great memes. Kudos Senator Jordan Steele-John for this gem:

Meme of a skinny Homer Simpson (with the face of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg) in his underwear facing Marge Simpson. The text is “budget surplus.” In the next picture a view from behind shows that Homer’s fat has been pulled back behind him with paper binders and string. The text is “$1.6 billion taken from the NDIS.”

The Opposition Leader used his budget reply speech to slam the government for short changing the NDIS by $1.6bn. He reaffirmed Labor’s promise to lift the staffing cap on the NDIA.

Royal Commission

The budget has confirmed that there will be a royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. It has been allocated $527.9m over 5 years, making it the most expense royal commission in Australia’s history. This includes $379.1m for running the inquiry and giving legal assistance to witnesses, and $148.8m for counselling and support for people with disability who participate.

The Prime Minister formally launched the royal commission later in the week, naming the Chair and the five assistant Commissioners. This was shortly followed by calls for two of the Commissioners to step down due to their roles as senior bureaucrats in disability services. Advocates believe that this represents a conflict of interest in their ability to be objective about the performance of these services. So one day in, there was already a bit of #controversy.

From what we seen so far, the royal commission is likely to have a pretty broad terms of reference. It’s draft focus areas are:

  • What governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation;

  • What governments, institutions and the community should do to encourage reporting and effective responses to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability; and

  • What should be done to promote a more inclusive society, which supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Pretty large scope, right? So I guess buckle up:

Moving image: drag queen called “judge rudy” banging a gravel. The text at the top says “it’s royal commission time!”

 

Disability Support Pension

People with disability who are working and receiving social services payments at the same time will also be impacted by the changes to income reporting. Income will now be reported when it is received, not when it is earned, through a single touch system. This is meant to make reporting easier, reduce associated debt and save the government $2.1bn in over payments. I mean nothing has ever gone wrong when Centrelink has implemented an automated system before, right?  

Moving image of man raising his eyebrows and biting his bottom lip as if to say “awkward…”

  

Carers Services

An additional $84.3m has been invested in services for carers. This partly takes the form of packages valued at up to $3,000 for 5,000 carers. And if you are thinking “But that’s not many?” then congratulations because you are correct. Only 0.18% of Australia’s 2.7 million carers will receive these packages. 25% of the packages are being reserved for young carers. The Department of Social Services is also currently testing and designing new phone counselling, online peer support and coaching services for carers, and will be releasing a range of new educational resources. You can find more information about the new carer services here.

  

Mental Health

Mental health received a $736.6m funding boost this budget. Some of the programs this money will be going to include:

  • $263m over seven years to expand Headspace services for young people, including addressing the waiting lists;

  • $110m over four years for early psychosis services for young people;

  • $15m for workplace mental health programs;

  • $54m for new residential centres for eating disorders.  

One of the most exciting promises is $114.5m for 8 new walk-in mental health centres for adults. Hopefully, this will go some of the way towards addressing the closure of mental health programs due to the roll out of the NDIS.

 

Adults with Down Syndrome Workforce

A tiny, blink and you will miss it, budget measure was $300,000 for not-for-profit e.motion21 to trial a program to increase workforce participation for adults with Down Syndrome. While it is hardly big bucks, it is exciting to see the government exploring new ways of supporting people with disability to find employment. We all know much more work is needed in this space, so hopefully we will see more initiative programs funded in future years.  

That’s the 2019-20 budget! We hope our summary was more enjoyable than watching the live show would have been. Though, honestly, that would hardly be something to brag about. We leave you with the wise words of Jessie J: