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Issue #1932      September 14, 2020

Marxism and the NDIS

On 28th August, the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Stuart Robert, announced that the government will be implementing reforms to the NDIS for 2021.

These reforms come after the failure of the NDIS rollout over the past few years. The NDIS exists to provide support and accessibility tools for people with “a permanent and significant disability.”

The NDIS also states that there are currently 4.3 million disabled people in Australia. Yet it aims to only provide insurance to “500,000 Australians who have permanent and significant disability,” while leaving out the other millions of disabled people from accessing the insurance scheme. As of late August 2020, over 400,000 people are supported by the NDIS.

Tune Review

The Tune Review was conducted by David Tune of the Department of Health in 2019 to review the faults of the NDIS and was released in January 2020. Around this time Stuart Robert commented that no one had died while waiting for the NDIS to rollout at the beginning of this year. Robert was slammed by the media and disability activists because the truth was that 1,279 people died between 2016 and 2019 while waiting to access the scheme.

Ironically, the biggest problem of the NDIS is its accessibility. But why is the NDIS, which is supposed to support access needs of disabled people, so inaccessible? For the same reason many government supports are inaccessible, because of bureaucracy.

It takes months for applications and reviews to move through the NDIS, which, as stated above, can lead to a disabled person’s death while they wait for support they need.

The Tune Review has twenty-nine recommendations for changes to NDIS including clearer and more accessible language, additional funding, greater leeway for applicants, greater outreach to marginalised people with disabilities such as Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander people and migrants, and so on.

The recent NDIS announcement states that the Australian government supports or supports in principle (whatever that means!) the twenty-nine recommendations of the Tune Review.

Independent assessments

One of the major reforms announced is that, as of 2021, the NDIS will be conducting independent assessments. Rather than a disabled person providing reports from their trusted doctors or specialists, the new assessments will require an independent assessor to come to a disabled person’s home and assess how disabled they are using standardised tools.

According to Robert, the independent assessments will “deliver a simpler, faster and fairer approach for determining a person’s eligibility right through to developing more flexible and equitable support packages.”

However, disability activists and advocacy groups remain sceptical. In their statement on independent assessments, People with a Disability Australia compared the change to similar schemes and said:

“People with disability who have undergone independent assessments in other schemes, such as workers compensation schemes, have found the process stressful and hostile. Ombudsman reports have shown that some workers compensation insurers purposefully choose independent assessors who they know are more likely to recommend terminating or minimising supports. We are concerned that the same issues will arise if the NDIS starts using independent assessments.”

Why should Communists care about the NDIS?

The very obvious reason that communists should care about failures of the NDIS is because communists should fight, as Lenin said, and generalise all forms of oppression under capitalism into a single picture to advance our “socialist convictions and democratic demand.”

Disability rights are ingrained in our theory and practice. How? By the very fact that we reject ideas such as “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” and “the full product of his labour to the worker.” We reject these phrases and ideas because they assume that all workers have equal ability. Marx sums up our position with his famous phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Lenin expands on this in State and Revolution when he calls ideas of the equality of workers as “petty bourgeois, confused phrases.” Lenin argues that the first phase of communism (socialism) will abolish the injustice of individuals owning the means of production (private property), but will be unable to do away with at once the “defects of distribution and the inequality of ‘bourgeois right’ ” as products are distributed according to labour performed.

To overcome this defect of socialism, of unequal individuals performing unequal labour, Lenin argues that the state is required to safeguard the public ownership of the means of production, equality in labour, and equality in the distribution of products until social equality is finally realised under communism.

How is this relevant to the NDIS? The NDIS exists to provide support to people whose labour does not produce as efficiently as able-bodied people and who find themselves “locked out” from participating in society because of inaccessibility.

There are three models of disability. In her short piece “What’s next for the NDIS?” disability activist, El Gibbs, defines them as the charity model in which disabled people are “dependent on the good will of non-disabled people”; the medical model that says disabled people are “broken and need to be fixed”; and the social model that “says that barriers lie within society” as a part of other systems of oppression “such as colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism.”

The policy behind the NDIS is built from the charity and the medical model, which are the models that capitalists subscribe to. Why do capitalists subscribe to these models? Firstly, they position natural variations of the body onto individual fault and responsibility, which is a core aspect of liberalism. Secondly, it positions the expense of supporting disabled people onto individuals through purchasing their own support tools, aids, and medical treatment, rather than providing accessible workplaces, houses, and public spaces.

Another important aspect of the medical model is that it allows the government to define and redefine what “disability” is. Ask yourself: why is it that only 400,000 disabled people out of a population of 4.3 million accessing the NDIS? It is because the NDIS shifts the definition of person needing access support to only include people with a “permanent and significant disability.”

The government can also use definitions of disability to grow or shrink the reserve army of labour, the unemployed, and regulate wages. Disability models and definitions are significant for this reason as wages are, as Marx said, determined “by the varying proportions in which the working class is divided into an active army and a reserve army.”

The best example of this are “medical rules” of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) that, like the NDIS, only allow those with permanent or significant disability to access the pension. What about the rest of the disabled population? If they can’t find work, they are forced onto JobSeeker payments and into Disability Employment Services (DES).

Between the DSP, the NDIS, DES, and the Supported Employment Services award, disabled people become tools of the bourgeoisie to drive down wages and provide easily exploitable labour as outlined in last week’s article “Jobs, jobs, jobs” (#1931).

American disability activist, Marta Russell, explains the relation between disability rights and Marxism in her essay ‘Marxism and Disability.’ She argues that liberal, reformist movements do not solve disability issues because these issues stem from the forces of capitalism. She says that “it is neither arbitrary nor irrational that disabled persons have been excluded from education, transportation, and other social spheres. Rather, it is logical that such a state of affairs would exist as long as disabled persons have little value as workers to the capitalist class.”

As workers, we need to support the rights of disabled people whose exploitation is intricately linked to our own, whose oppression is used to drive down wages. As communists, we must continue to advocate socialism as the only solution for disabled people, whose exploitation is tied to capitalist exploitation, whose needs can only be provided for under socialism, and whose full equality can only be realised under communism.

Next article – Kim Jong Un sends open letter to all Party Members in Pyongyang

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