Current NDIS can't provide decent jobs, researchers warn

18 Jul 2017

disability

A research team led by UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) has examined the ability of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to provide decent jobs for disability support workers and sounded a warning on the developing problem of NDIS pricing.  

According to their report, “Reasonable, Necessary and Valued”, the pricing system does not cover the full costs of disability support and will fail to provide high quality services.

Key findings of the report on NDIS pricing arrangements include:

  • Disability support workers are not allocated enough work time required to provide personalised, coordinated, responsive and safe services to people with disability.
  • The legal employment entitlements of disability support workers can’t be met.
  • Casualisation is contributing to financial insecurity for workers.
  • Pricing doesn’t include training or further skills development of the disability support workforce.
  • Disability support workers are accessing important training in unpaid time.
  • Unpredictable shifts are leading to poor work-life balance.
  • Physical injuries, exhaustion, stress and other negative psychological impacts arise from the combination of unsafe working conditions and high work intensity.

The report, which was prepared for Health Services Union, Australian Services Union and United Voice, found that the current NDIS pricing arrangements, set by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), fail to "recognise the time required to deliver quality services to NDIS participants ... resulting in lower quality support and increased risks for participants". 

The authors, led by the SPRC's Dr Natasha Cortis, identified that NDIS prices "incentivise cost cutting" and "are not fully enabling disability support workers to deliver services which are personalised, co-ordinated, responsive or safe; and quality is likely to diminish in the process of NDIS expansion".

To address the present inadequacies of NDIS prices, the report calls for an equitable restructuring of funding arrangements: "Fairer pricing arrangements would recognise that providers require access to resource levels which enable them to attract, train and retain high quality staff, and to employ staff in decent jobs that provide adequate hours and earnings, safe workplaces, job security, and a reasonable work-life balance," it says.

The problems of NDIS pricing are well known to the three unions representing frontline disability workers in Australia. Officials from the Australian Services Union (ASU), the Health Services Union (HSU), and United Voice say the NDIS is predicated on a system in which workers are under-valued and are forced to compensate for under-resourcing with unpaid overtime.

This report confirms that inadequate pricing structures of the NDIS do not allow for employment conditions that will attract and retain the necessary NDIS workforce.

Echoing the findings of the research report, the three unions submit that any review of NDIS pricing – including the Productivity Commission’s current review of NDIS Costs – must recognise that current funding models do not provide for high-quality services; and must engage in broad consultation with unions, providers, and participants to secure the sustainability of the NDIS now and into the future. The system must properly recognise and value frontline workers.

Lloyd Williams, National President of the Health Services Union says: "Chronic underfunding is creating real risks for the future viability of the NDIS. Hard-working frontline disability support workers on award-based minimum rates of pay are barely making ends meet. The current price settings are unsustainable for attracting and retaining a skilled workforce.”

Linda White, Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Services Union says: “One in five new jobs created in Australia in the coming years will be NDIS jobs. How will we find workers to do these jobs when there are no career paths and inadequate funding for training? We need to attract and retain people for a career, so that people with disability get continuity of support and high quality support – that is at risk under the current NDIS pricing arrangements.”

Helen Gibbons, Assistant National Secretary of United Voice says: “This report confirms that inadequate pricing structures of the NDIS do not allow for employment conditions that will attract and retain the necessary NDIS workforce.  More than that without quality jobs NDIS participants will not receive the quality supports they deserve.”

The full report is available here (PDF). Dr Natasha Cortis is available for comment.