By Francesca Merlo
"There is growing fear among Catholic providers of disability services that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will not deliver the level of support that clients and providers need".
This is the opening line of a statement released by Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) on their website on 2 September. The statement explains that many CSSA members, "offer services through the NDIS", and notes that while there was a sense of relief that a plan to implement independent assessments was scrapped, key issues remain.
One of the main concerns highlighted in the statement is the gap that appears to be growing between "what services are funded for through the NDIS and what providers charge".
CSSA chair Francis Sullivan said, “There is a sense of déjà vu emerging, with it feeling like what happened to Medicare is happening to the NDIS.” He added, “The gap being created is leaving NDIS clients and their families out of pocket and that cannot continue.”
Mr Sullivan said while that challenge has been building for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional problems.
“With large parts of the country currently in lockdown, and some regions moving in and out of lockdowns for 18 months, some clients cannot access the services they need,” he said. “Health services and supports are being offered, but other vital supports, such as access to community, civic and social participation, are not.”
The statement goes on to say that lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have also caused some annual assessments to be cancelled or delayed, "meaning people’s plans are being rolled over." CSSA explains that "for some this creates no issue but for many, that means approved goals and funds no longer meet the needs of the client, seeing the additional costs to clients escalate".
Mr Sullivan went on to note that Catholic providers are also expressing significant workforce concerns.
“It can be very difficult to attract and retain quality staff in the disability section, largely due to the casualisation of the workforce,” he said. “People are being turned off the profession they have trained for and practised all their lives because they are being forced to work as a casual. Working under those conditions means they are forgoing the security of a full-time job.”
He noted that this is especially a problem for workers in their 50s who are preparing for retirement.
“If they currently have no sense of certainty about their employment, you cannot blame them for seeking security in another role that does offer it," explained Mr Sullivan
Concluding the statement, CSSA writes that "those factors create a system that isn’t delivering for providers, their staff or – most importantly – clients".
Finally, Mr Sullivan added that “the aspirations of the NDIS are commendable. We want it to work, but it is not working the way it could and should".