NDIS participants fear cuts to scheme funding

Feared National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding cuts would have serious implications for the wider Australian economy according to The Islander Online and Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten.

The Islander reported women would be the hardest hit by funding cuts, according to new research which casts fresh doubt over claims the scheme is unsustainable.

Peak body National Disability Services (NDS) published the analysis as it launched a new campaign urging candidates to reject cuts to the scheme ahead of the next federal election.

Debate over the future of the NDIS had raged throughout the year, with The Islander saying the federal government had argued a higher than expected increase in participant numbers and individual costs had put the scheme on “an unsustainable trajectory”.

Mr. Shorten was quite vocal about the future of NDIS funding, casting doubt on the above Federal Government’s NDIS number crunching.

He said the scheme was a jobs boon and loss of funding a “jobs killer”.

“We now have proof the NDIS is actually a $52 billion-a-year boon to the Australian economy and the Coalition’s cuts are a massive Aussie job-killer,” Mr. Shorten said.

“The Morrison Government has put out 10 conflicting sets of numbers this year alone to justify its cuts to the NDIS.”

Mr. Shorten said NDS research showed that for every $1 billion in funding cut from the scheme, more than 10,000 jobs were lost.

“The report also shows that there is a benefit to our economy of $2.25 for every $1 spent on goods and services through the scheme,” he said.

This new NDS research report and campaign showed the national scheme was “an enormous boost to Australia”, as a safety net and an economic benefit.

Disability advocates, Labor and the Greens had also disputed the government’s figures, which they claimed were being pushed to justify cost cuts and contentious reforms – including the now-axed introduction of independent assessments.

And while independent assessors may appear dead in the water, there are fears it will be resurrected in another form, despite monitoring by the The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the NDIS which welcomed the end to the proposal.

NDIS Minister Senator Linda Reynolds had previously ruled out budget cuts, but continued to sound warnings about the scheme’s cost and long-term sustainability.

Per Capita examined the cost and benefits of the NDIS and scrutinised the government’s controversial cost projections.

The analysis found the scheme was a major economic multiplier, with every dollar of investment delivering a return of $2.25 as a result of job creation and spending on small local businesses.

On those numbers, the scheme would have delivered a $52 billion economic boost to the nation in the past financial year, which Mr. Shorten echoed.

Back in May, the Canberra Times reported the annual cost of the National Disability Insurance scheme is set to nudge $30 billion in the next three years – massively above budget forecasts made just months before.

The recent Per Capita report warned that “excessive cost cutting” would be “self-defeating”, given any savings would effectively be offset by lost economic benefits.

The analysis found that every billion dollars cut from the scheme would result in the loss of more than 10,200 full-time jobs.

Women would account for the overwhelming majority of job losses, the research suggested.

The report also raised fresh questions about the figures the Morrison government was relying on to justify its concerns about the scheme’s sustainability.

Under intense pressure over a lack of transparency, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) this year published an abridged version of its secret annual sustainability report, which included modelling on the scheme’s future cost.

The modelling projected that total participant costs would balloon $22.6 billion over budget in the next four years, on the back of higher than expected numbers of people joining the scheme, lower exit rates, and growing individual budgets.

The Per Capita report said that while it was difficult to properly interrogate the modelling given that assumptions underpinning it remained secret, there were a number of red flags with the figures.

Its report cast doubt over the projections for participant numbers and exit rates, and criticised what it considered to be a failure to investigate how costs could have risen so quickly.

NDS president Rohan Braddy said the analysis demonstrated how the scheme had been a “transformative economic and social reform”.

“We have been concerned to see the focus change over the past year from the benefits of the scheme to the cost, with ongoing attempts to restrict access to the scheme and reducing support available,” Mr. Braddy said.

The campaign has warned that cuts to the NDIS would have “devastating” consequences for people with a disability, their families, carers and support workers – along with the wider Australian economy.

It called on all federal election candidates to reject funding cuts to the scheme ahead of the next federal election.

Only last week the Morrison Government introduced legislation to improve the experiences of participants, their families, and carers of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

According to Senator Reynolds, in the Federal Government report, the proposed changes would mean NDIS participants would be better off because it would:

  1. Legislate timeframes for their engagement with the NDIA through the Participant Service Guarantee.
  2. Establish a variation process which will benefit participants by allowing smaller changes to be made to a plan without going through a full plan review.
  3. Provide a simplified payments system to allow the Agency to make direct payments on behalf of participants.
  4. Strengthen the objects and principles of the Act to include the central role of people with a disability in co-design.
  5. Make people with disability or lived experience with disability a mandatory consideration for NDIA Board appointments.
  6. Help deliver better services in thin markets and remote communities.

Mr. Shorten said NDIS benefits included providing life-changing support for the 467,000 Australians on the scheme, but also employment and income to 270,000 workers.

Senator Reynolds must now release all the financial modelling the Government was hiding behind to cut the scheme, he said.

“The Morrison Government must also commit to lifting the staffing caps at the NDIA where chronic permanent staff shortages are damaging the lives of people living with disabilities,” Mr. Shorten said.

He welcomed the new NDS data which he said proved the NDIS was a scheme that really did benefit all Australians.

“The Morrison Government has dedicated tens of millions of dollars to tearing shreds off this world-leading scheme instead of investing in it,” Mr. Shorten said.

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