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Issue #1492      9 March 2011


“User pays” comes to disability and carer support

There is no argument that disability and carer support is in a scandalous state in Australia. There is also no argument that the various state and federal funding mechanisms need reform and a lot more cash flowing through them to help the 850,000 severely disabled Australians relying on them for assistance.

“At the moment people with disability are falling through all sorts of gaps,” Lesley Hall, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, said last week. “Some are shut into hospitals and nursing homes because the funding isn’t there to provide them with supports at home, which in many cases would be cheaper. Others rely on family and friends to give them support, which wears down their social networks. In some cases the lack of appropriate supports means people with disability are abused but they’re afraid to leave because there’s nothing else.”

Ms Hall was responding to the release of a draft report from the federal government’s Productivity Commission that sets out a plan ostensibly to deliver a “Long Term Disability Care and Support Scheme”. Like the recent Caring for Older Australians Productivity Commission draft report, it contains propositions that will need to be worked out in the months ahead but, in common with the aged care report the recommendations of the disability report lend themselves nicely to the “self-provisioning” agenda of the neo-liberals in government across the country.

Disability groups will welcome the idea of $12 billion fund to be collected centrally and distributed locally even if it means the Commonwealth will be calling on the states to give up $4.5 billion in tax revenues – the amount they currently spend annually on disability services. Naturally, they welcome the idea of disabled people being able to get assistance as a lump sum for aids and services that they can select according to their specific needs.

The worrying aspect is that the Commonwealth will be out to find the shortfall in the funds required for the scheme by instituting a levy, similar to the Medicare levy, of something like 0.8 per cent of income. Or something akin to the superannuation levy might be introduced. Whatever is decided, estimates are that the National Disability Insurance Scheme could cost every worker $300 a year or $1,200 for a family of four.

The important thing to note is that this isn’t a call for solidarity for disabled Australians currently putting up with inadequate support and services. It is a demand that Australians insure themselves against disability or insure for the cost of children born with disabilities. It used to be considered a normal feature of a civilised society that our collective wealth (or at least the portion that finds its way into general revenue) should be used to provide for the health, education, retirement and, in this instance, the special needs of people with disabilities.

Another of the recommendations is the establishment of a National Injury Insurance Scheme. This is said to be necessary to assist people who suffer a catastrophic injury at work like the loss of a limb or spinal chord damage. Former NSW government minister John Della Bosca says that workers in some states are much better looked after following car accidents by beefed up compulsory third party insurance than by arrangements in place for workers in the event of an accident at work.

This is rich. State governments have systematically reduced workers compensation entitlements over the years and increased the stress on sick and injured workers to an intolerable degree. The solution? Get workers to kick into an insurance fund – pay additionally for what used to come out of their taxes and from the employers often responsible for the injuries.

There is no doubt more funds must be found for public services that have been degraded over recent years. This includes disability and carer support. But the state and federal governments must look elsewhere for the source of the dollars. Workers have been squeezed dry by spiralling housing and others costs of living, downward pressure on real wages and increasingly expensive services like health and education. The federal government will have to seek the funds from the big business sector and/or scale back their military spending.

Next article – CPA Statement – Regarding attacks on the CP of Bohemia and Moravia

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