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Issue #1834      August 8, 2018

Employment gap for people with disability

National disability organisations have come together to highlight concerns about federal government reforms to Disability Employment Services (DES) which commenced on July 1, 2018.

“We have repeatedly raised concerns about DES reforms, and the missed opportunity to create a successful employment support system for people with disability,” said Therese Sands, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, speaking on behalf of Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia).

“Over $800 million per year is being spent propping up a failed system that is not helping people with disability get paid work. A little more than one out of ten people entering the DES program get a job, and stay in that job, for at least 12 months. Nationally, only 53 percent of people with disability of working age are in paid work, compared to 83 percent of their non-disabled peers. This huge employment gap has not changed over the last 20 years.”

Suzanne Colbert AM, CEO of Australian Network on Disability (AND) said, “There are some positive aspects of the reforms, such as the increased focus on sustainable jobs, continued funding of workplace adjustments through the Employment Assistance Fund and support for employees to retain their employment through the Work Assist program.

“Sadly, the views of people with disability and employers have been overlooked in these reforms and we fear the new system will make it harder for employers to recruit people with disability,” said Colbert.

“We have grave concerns these reforms do not deliver on the promise of informed choice for people with disability seeking employment. These reforms also result in an average funding cut of 31 percent to jobseekers with intellectual disability due to the program funding restructure.”

The additional funding announced in the federal budget of $10 million over two years for some providers to address this funding cut is welcomed, noted Paul Cain, CEO of Inclusion Australia. “However, it does not alleviate our fundamental concern that the DES reforms introduce a disincentive for any provider to serve jobseekers with high support needs and offer the required level of support to help them to find and keep a job.

“Indeed, the funding model seems to contradict the government’s intention to encourage more participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to seek employment assistance from the DES program. The new DES funding arrangements reduce funding for people with disability most likely to qualify for the NDIS, as we know 65 percent of current NDIS plans are for people with intellectual disability and autism,” said Cain.

Reforms to the DES system began in 2015, and DPO Australia, Inclusion Australia and AND have participated in every step along the way, including roundtables, submissions, consultations and expert advisory groups.

“Throughout the reform process, we have stressed the need for people with disability to be able to make informed choices and decisions about their employment support, and that this support should provide the individualised assistance required by people with disability. These reforms don't offer people with disability the choice they were promised, or the individual assistance for their particular disability,” said Sands.

The 2016 Willing to Work report, from the Australian Human Rights Commission, called for a comprehensive national strategy to address structural barriers to employment for people with disability, such as discrimination, negative employer attitudes and lack of accessibility, to improve employment for people with disability.

“Instead of the comprehensive recommendations of the Willing to Work enquiry, the government is going ahead with piecemeal and flawed reforms to the DES system,” said Sands.

“Despite our deep disappointment with this reform process, we remain committed to working with government to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.

“We note government commitments to ongoing review of the reforms, including how the DES funding model is working and assessment of outcomes data. We will be continuing to monitor the evidence of whether the DES reforms are making a real difference for people with disability and their engagement in long-term and ongoing employment.”

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