- by Valentin Cartillier
- The Guardian
- Issue #1962
As part of the latest Federal Budget on Tuesday the 11th of May, the Morrison government announced it would be increasing the annual budget of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from $17.62 billion to $30+ billion over the next four years. While this increase in funding for the NDIS is welcome and well overdue, it comes with a structural reform that is nearly unanimously opposed by disabled people and workers in the sector. The government has now made it mandatory for anyone undergoing a review of their plan or assessment for a new plan with the NDIS to get an “Independent Assessment” (IA) which further bureaucratises a key element of the scheme.
WHAT IS AN IA?
An IA is a free, but mandatory, one-to-four-hour assessment (report writing time included) by a government-approved health professional, selected from one of eight organisations, which determines what level of help and support a person needs and will receive from the NDIS. This goes against the original purpose of the NDIS, for disabled people to be able to choose to be assessed by trusted doctors and specialists they have long-term and ongoing relationships with. The introduction of IAs forces existing recipients to re-qualify for help they’re already receiving from doctors who are unfamiliar with their needs.
The Federal Government has attempted to justify this intrusion on the grounds that it will streamline the process, but disabled people and advocacy groups have long criticised this as an attempt to cut costs by standardising care for what can be extremely complex needs. Advocates say that this push to standardise NDIS assessments will only result in people receiving worse care.
It is easy to see why this would be the case. There are already approximately 450,000+ people on the scheme, with the number expected to increase to 530,000+ over the next few years. Still, this number represents only ten percent of the number of disabled people living in Australia. Only children under seven will be exempt from the mandatory IA, resulting in a lot of paperwork for a measure designed to “streamline” the process.
The IAs have already undergone two trial periods and the feedback has been far from glowing. Peta Lambert, one of the participants of the first round of IA trials, alongside her mother, has this to say:
“I think it is a rotten idea […] The NDIA [National Disabilties Insurance Agency] should bugger off and leave people with disability with enough money to be able to live an ordinary life like everyone else in Australia.”
The NDIA is the government agency responsible for implementing the NDIS. She explained that the interview process was highly reductive, often reducing complex topics to simple “yes” or “no” responses that would be recorded by the assessor. There are numerous other statements to this effect, leading to serious concerns surrounding the competency of the assessors employed to conduct IAs.
Fairer NDIS for All, a grassroots group led by disabled people and workers in the sector, has made a Submission to the Inquiry on Independent Assessments that comprehensively details the criticisms that disability groups have been making against IAs since they were announced as a reform. They stated:
“From the very beginning, disability advocacy groups released statements criticising the government’s introduction of IAs, particularly around the lack of experience that assessors have working with disabled people, and a lack of training about trauma-informed practice and person-centred practice.”
Australian Greens Disability spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John, in the same vein, said on the 15th of April:
“When the plan to introduce compulsory independent assessments was announced, our community said very clearly that this proposal was just a smokescreen for blocking access and cutting support … . Scott Morrison, the Liberals and their mates in the agency told us we were being ridiculous; they told us these changes were about ‘consistency’ and ‘fairness’. We knew they were lying and now we have proof.”
From the very beginning disability groups and disabled people have seen right through the lies of the Morrison government and their attempts to implement a system that would only further complicate the already difficult process of getting on the NDIS. The IAs introduce a further bureaucratic impasse by denying NDIS participants the opportunity to appeal the outcome of their IA since the NDIS would only have its own report to refer to in accessing an applicant’s request to access the scheme. This is just another instance of a government agency investigating itself through its own criteria of investigation.
No sooner had the ink dried on the latest federal budget, and there was already talk about how expensive the NDIS is going to be. The 2021 Budget forecast that the support covered by the scheme will cost $31.9bil by 2024-25. However, this came as no surprise for the government. In April, a leaked document from the NDIS revealed that the government had already been trying to calculate the rising cost of the NDIS. Under the name “Sustainability Action Taskforce,” the government was already trying to find ways to cut costs and participant numbers.
The leaked document stated:
“The actions of the [Sustainability Action Taskforce] will make immediate changes to slow growth in participant numbers, slow growth in spend per participant and strengthen operational discipline.”
They’re already concerned about the future cost of the scheme so they’re already trying to find ways to cut corners. This is a truly grotesque sleight of hand the government is pulling. On paper it looks like they’re investing more money into the NDIS. In reality this has only been achieved by implementing the more costly IAs while at the same time trying to cut costs over the long term by slowing the intake of participants and reducing the amount spent on them. Morrison said that IAs were “designed to make the NDIS fairer and more sustainable into the future.” By the looks of it, “more sustainable” simply means a worse service for a cheaper price (For more on this see Guardian “Government’s contempt for disabled people” #1956). Fairer NDIS for All was right on the money when they said “IAs are a dodgy move to take money from participants’ plans” to funnel it elsewhere.
Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for Government Services, Senator Linda Reynolds confirmed despite ongoing protests that the IAs will continue to be rolled out, but that “what form they take is very much the subject of consultation.” However, Fairer NDIS for All has expressed grave scepticism over this sentiment. There has been next to no genuine community consultation over a reform that’s clearly not designed to help the people it’s supposed to. The very fact that the IAs are going ahead is evidence enough.
One of the fundamental problems of understanding disability within society is the complex position it occupies within it. Under capitalism, disability is medicalised and individualised, cut off from its social context.
This is why Fairer NDIS for All endorses the “social model” which defines disability as:
“a social category, not a medical category, [which]is fundamentally a labour problem, not an individual problem. In short, under the social model there is no such thing as a “severe disability”, and individual solutions will not achieve justice for disabled people as a whole … This model is preferable because it more accurately reflects the experience of being disabled in the current world, and recognises the need for social change not just medical intervention.”
We live in a capitalist society whose only way of determining the value of an individual is their ability to produce wealth. There is a vast array of ways that capitalism denigrates people who don’t conform to this standard. Disabled people are not exempt from this. Once someone falls outside the standard of producing value, they are considered valueless in economic terms and the state will only begrudgingly offer some assistance to the lucky few. While the NDIS does support hundreds of thousands of disabled people, it is being undermined by government greed and capitalist contempt for offering a helping hand. The social model grasps the fundamental point that to combat this, societal change is required. For a properly elaborated explanation of this change see Guardian “Marxism and the NDIS” #1932.
Disabled people need to be given the support they need, in line with their material needs not with the government’s bottom line. The only way to ensure this can properly occur is to adhere to the maxim of political self-determination: “Nothing about us, without us.”
Fairer NDIS 4 All recommends that the Federal Government:
Abandon plans to introduce independent assessments
Provide free medical and allied health services for people applying for the NDIS
Stop privatisation and expand public disability services
Scrap the NDIA’s staffing cap.