Handicapped sign, disabled, car park, streets(NO CAPTION INFORMATION PROVIDED)Disability workers, unions and advocacy groups are raising the alarm over the likelihood that less experienced, less qualified staff, and even dodgy operators could pour into the sector under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
As concerns mount over the implementation of the Labor-initiated scheme under a Coalition government, many of those in the disability field say they are being told the only way services can be provided on budget is by cutting staff costs, including training and supervision.
The Health and Community Services Union says many of its members working in disability have already been told by providers that they are under extreme pressure to cut costs to meet the NDIS’ strict pricing. They argue this is fuelling a growing casualisation of the disability workforce and cutbacks to supervision and training.
HACSU state secretary Lloyd Williams said it beggared belief that the $22 billion NDIS was driving cuts to supervision and training for those working with vulnerable people, who were potential targets of mistreatment and abuse.
“We’ve been warning about this since 2012. We’ve had a Royal Commission into children in care ??? a Federal Senate inquiry into abuse in disability and they’re all saying the same thing, that this workforce needs more supervision, more scrutiny. The risks of less supervision are obvious and they are enormous.”
Unions and disability advocates have long been critical of the NDIS’s framework for quality and safeguards, arguing the scheme should not have begun rolling out without tough minimum standards for workers, with strict national requirements for registration, accreditation and minimum qualifications.
At present, the agency delivering the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Agency, has a Quality and Safeguarding Framework, which was developed after consultation with people with disability, carers, providers and peak bodies, although this framework is not yet fully implemented.
Two parent disability support groups have told Fairfax Media that they are concerned that the influx of new providers in the sector, under the NDIS, could mean many less qualified, less experienced people are setting themselves up as disability workers. One NSW group, who did not want to be named, said they were concerned about people with good will but few qualifications, becoming NDIS providers.
The Community and Public Sector Union’s federal secretary Karen Batt said the lack of checks and balances over the quality of the disability workforce was in effect an “Uberisation” of the sector.
“There is a concern about fly-by-nighters setting up, and there is a concern about dodgy operators.”
Ms Batt said around 70 per cent of those who will use the NDIS have an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, increasing the need for clear minimum standards for those who will be caring for them, and greater oversight of services.
In Victoria, the Andrews government is supportive of an accreditation and registration process for those providing services under the NDIS, but seems set to go it alone on this.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Disability Martin Foley, said although the details of the NDIS’s Quality and Safeguarding Framework were still to be finalised, the Victorian Government believed more needed to be done to prevent abuse and mismanagement and was committed to “an independent, legislated registration and accreditation scheme for the State’s disability workforce, essential to a prevention focus”.
The Victorian scheme will be an additional preventative and quality measure and will work alongside the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework.
The NDIA referred queries about accreditation and standards to the Department of Social Services. A department spokeswoman said that during the introduction of the NDIS state and territory governments would continue to maintain their role regulating NDIS providers and safeguarding NDIS participants. When the NDIS is fully rolled out, the new national NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework will come into force.
The spokeswoman said that while qualifications may be important for some categories of support, it would not guarantee that the worker was delivering safer services. She said risk-based worker screening will play a crucial role in building a trusted and capable NDIS workforce.
By the time the NDIS has finished rolling out across Australia, in 2019/2020, the scheme will support about 460,000 people with disabilities and the workforce in the disability sector will have at least doubled.
Many of those working in disability, including unions, say there has been a chronic lack of planning for this explosion of the workforce.
Lloyd Williams says HACSU warned the Labor government in 2012 about the need to plan carefully for the transformation of this workforce, including ensuring there were enough properly trained and qualified staff ready.
“The Abbott government had a completely hand off approach, so those years were completely wasted. We needed planning with strong intervention and strong leadership for this to work.”
Mr Williams said like many involved in the disability sector, unions were highly supportive of the NDIS, but frustrated over the way it was being implemented.
“No one wants to speak out about the problems. Families don’t want to complain because they are worried they’ll get even less.”
Many in the sector have also raised concerns over the removal of NDIS chair Bruce Bonyhady – a father of two sons with cerebral palsy and a former funds manager for ANZ and BT Financial. In December, the social services minister Christian Porter, replaced Mr Bonyhady with a board with little lived experience of disability.
Ms Batt said there were grave concerns that removing the public sector involvement in disability care and replacing it with private operators could lead to the sort of problems seen in residential care, which has undergone a similar process.
A recent ABC Four Corners program exposed shocking abuse of disabled people living in group homes, with families and workers saying operators had failed to prevent the abuse and police had failed to investigate it, often unable to deal with the complexity of disabled witnesses.
The Produc??tivity Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into NDIS, with a discussion paper to be released next month and the final paper due in September.