Market forces are one thing; vulnerable lives are another

When markets are growing and investment is high, of course you are going to find a buzz of interest and activity. But when you’re talking about a national government-supported scheme, bees around a honey-pot can suddenly transform into snouts at the trough of public funds. A troubling scenario.

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? We know how badly it can end, in Royal Commissions and worse.

I don’t want to be known as a critic of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It promises so much positive progress for our brothers and sisters with disabilities. I want to keep flying that NDIS flag of choice and control! And of course the flag that flies over everything we do at NOVA: Employment First.

But I’m worried.

The 2016 stats showed that only seven per cent of NDIS participants (i.e. individuals with allocated funding) choose to self-manage their funds. Thirty-five per cent combine self-management and agency management. Fifty-eight per cent are choosing to be fully managed by agencies.[1] So many decisions are being made by disabled people and their families. Which is as it should be. But the situation is also ripe for major stuff-ups and exploitation. 

We know that strong governance arrangements and provider controls do exist, informing the work of the National Disability Insurance Agency (charged with overseeing the implementation of the Scheme). But what I’m seeing with my own eyes is nothing short of a feeding frenzy, followed by some serious indigestion.

Sure, the market must grow, and it must be competitive. But with a flood of new providers comes an amount of chaos and uncertainty. Most mean well; many are naïve and inexperienced. Some I would call misguided, dangerous mavericks. As we wait for the onslaught to ease, will things that are already working well be inadvertently dismantled?

For example, the autonomy of employers. Strong-arm tactics (dictating terms, threatening legal action) have no place in this field. If I’ve learned anything over the past three decades it’s this: employers will not be coerced. Satisfying, sustainable work placement is a two-way street (for anybody, not just those with disability). Employers must believe their worker is a good long-term investment. This takes time and expertise. In short, a lot of hard work.

There’s too much at stake here. Market forces are one thing; vulnerable lives are another.

- Martin Wren