People with a disability and their families should get decent support to pursue their life goals as part of their communities.
‘Every Australian Counts’ has been the campaign for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It has been supported by many organisations and individuals as part of a strong campaign and it has support across the political spectrum. You can read of the support on the website www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au, connect on Facebook or follow on Twitter. The campaign has set a goal of 250,000 signatures and will most likely succeed in that goal. Why? Because, few people can deny that people with a disability and their families should get decent support to pursue their life goals as part of their communities.
The proposal for the NDIS comes from the Productivity Commission who write in their report, “Disability Care and Support”: The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient, and gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports. The stresses on the system are growing, with rising costs for all governments. Their proposal is the establishment of a new scheme that aims to overcome those disadvantages by providing insurance cover for all people with ‘significant’ disability. The report details an approach using a national agency to oversee the scheme but not to provide the services. Current service providers would continue to be involved in the delivery of services. The advantages they contend in their proposal are increased choice, increased flexibility and increased funds (about double current spending).
The central drive for the NDIS is well put in an article from Peter Kell of Anglicare:
“Central to the proposed reforms is insurance cover for all Australians in the event of significant disability. Currently, the way in which disability services are funded and provided is soaked with injustice and complexity. How you obtain a disability or where in Australia you live should not determine either the ease of access to services or the quality of services available to you. But it does, because our system of disability support is so terribly underfunded and fractured.”
There is, however, some opposition to the scheme as it has been proposed from within the disability sector. Many advocates see this approach as ‘top down’ and based on a market model that would result in uncertainty and continuing exclusion. Erik Leipoldt
“Social inclusion involves relational processes of engagement with difficult issues, respect, trust and openness. Not top-down marketing and appeals for ‘unity’ where substantial issues are never really explored. Perhaps we should not wait for the Promised Land of an NDIS - not this sort anyway. It seems high time for putting our limited energies into strategies, practices and coalitions that can do, and advance, social inclusion today. An NDIS with such an orientation, having some market notions as its servants, not its master, might work.”
It seems that the need for reforms and a comprehensive insurance scheme that would guarantee funding for people with a disability is needed. It has the potential to shift funding to a rights or justice approach rather than optional and unreliable charity. However, it is not wise to ignore the voices of people with a disability who are concerned about the broader aspects of life beyond support services. It seems that the broader support of the NDIS should be tempered by further discussion about the mechanisms before it is implemented in 2014. However, the urgency for reform is clear and these discussions should not delay the increased flexibility, choice and quantum proposed by the Productivity Commission.
We don’t have to look hard in the Bible to realise that God mandates the provision of support to vulnerable members of our community. Micah 6:8 has been used often as a call to a just and merciful society. These same words are used in Isaiah 32 (sedaqah and mispat) to compare a new kingdom with the old where peace will reign. The New Testament similarly speaks of the importance of righteousness & justice, especially in the gospel of Luke and the letter of James. In Luke 14:14, Jesus speaks of the importance of giving the outsiders priority and James writes in James 1: 22-25 of the acting out of our faith. He goes on to describe what that means in practical terms and, in Chapter 5, warns those who have wealth of the penalties of acting unjustly and oppressively towards others.
Many would interpret the call to righteousness as a call to private philanthropy or charity. That cannot be ignored as a personal challenge. However, we now live in a society where public funding is accepted as a system that avoids the dangers of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The anxiety and uncertainty that is associated with funds that are dependent on the whims of individuals, organisations or governments have led to many Christians supporting guaranteed funding through public funds.
At present, the proposal has provisional support from all sides of politics. For the benefit of people with a disability and their families, it is to be hoped that this will continue as the details of implementation are sorted out. As Erik Leipoldt contends:
“The Draft report believes that “the key test of a new scheme will be the extent to which it can address existing deficiencies in an equitable, efficient, cost-effective and accountable way.” Should that not be to what extent it can support people with disabilities in having our needs met, in ways that maximise our social inclusion - our good lives?”
 Productivity Commission 2011, Disability Care and Support, Report no. 54, Canberra. p.2
By Rob Nicholls
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