New contract, old problems

A new Disability Employment Service (DES) contract has arrived, which will run until 2023.

There are new players and new rules. There’s also a new demerit system. It’s supposed to ensure job seekers meet their obligations. If they don’t, they risk losing their disability support benefits.

The new contract will not improve the number or quality of outcomes achieved by the DES network. I am actually fairly confident that results will either remain in a slump or go backwards. Here is why: 

1. Punishment is no way to gain results. At best you create resentment, at worst, separating benefit recipients from the meagre funds they rely on will lead to crime and violence.

2. The large number of inexperienced and disconnected new service providers will not generate improved competition rather it will create confusion.

3. There is still no incentive or requirement for more than minimums. Service providers still get the same recognition for an 8hr position as a 38hr position. For people in receipt of the Disability Support Pension, independence and inclusion are not attainable while minimums are encouraged and maximums punished.

4. For profit providers dominate the market. Everyone knows that their loyalty is to their foreign owners and shareholders. These businesses would expect a 20% return on their investment. That is $2 in every $10 taken from the service that people with disability deserve!

5. Previous contracts have not understood or rewarded effective post-placement support, so no one knows how to deliver this anymore, because the skills and craft are neither taught nor understood. This as a direct consequence of small, purchasable, minimum-hour positions that devalue people with disability and create an expectation on the part of employers that workers with a disability are either free or heavily discounted.

Underlying all of these seems to be a total lack of faith in the capability or the product. 

Rolls Royce never has half-price sales! Neither should DES. We should be proud of our product and proudly advertise the fact we represent an overlooked but very valuable resource whose skills are often learned and honed in adversity. Such workers bring a fresh look at how things can get done.

Forget punishing anyone. Change the measurements for so-called high performance. Call upon people who still believe in the product. Choose services that expect, and deliver, training in the skills that truly support people with disability to keep their jobs into the long term. Lose specialist providers. Set numerical KPIs for the next 12 months and 5 years based on hours worked, pay earned and length of tenure and there just might be improvement.

Until then do not expect much change.

- Martin Wren