NDIS underspend continues

Matt Woodley

20/09/2019 3:55:58 PM

The Government has now spent $4.6 billion less on the scheme than originally anticipated, with the savings put towards the Budget bottom line.

Man in wheelchair at the bottom of escalators.
The underspend has been partly attributed to an insufficient number of service providers to meet the demand.

Upon announcing the underspend, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told reporters the Federal Government has implemented the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as fast as it can, but is being delayed by state and territories.
‘Ultimately 100% of the demand in the community will be met,’ he said.
‘We are going through a transition from a state-based, block funding arrangement, where quite frankly there was a lot of unmet demand and a lot of inadequate support for Australians with a disability, to a situation where every Australian ultimately who has a demand for disability services support, will receive that support tailored to their needs.
‘It has [also] taken a bit more time for the service-provider market to develop sufficiently to meet the available demand.’
However, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Disability network, Associate Professor Bob Davis, told newsGP the continued underspend is partly due to the Government’s decision to limit employment related to the scheme.
‘The capping on employment is a problem. They’ve got a backlog of work and I know my patients are needing some support, but there’s a waiting list of up to nine months and growing,’ he said.
‘There just isn’t the people on the ground that’s partly a government issue and partly because there aren’t enough people to provide services.
‘It’s a relatively urgent problem that hasn’t been dealt with waiting such a long time for appropriate services can be very stressful for carers or parents involved.
Minister Cormann also defended using money that had been earmarked for the NDIS but ultimately not spent towards lowering the Budget deficit.
‘In any budget, at any budget update, you have movements up and down. You have got demand that is higher than expected and you have to pay more. Sometimes you have demand that is lower than expected,’ he said.
‘The Government will cover the cost of the demand that is there to its fullest extent. It makes absolutely no sense to put money aside when the money will be there.’
Associate Professor Davis believes it is somewhat disingenuous for the Government to say there is a lack of demand, given the longstanding difficulties people have had accessing the scheme.
‘There doesn’t seem to be the urgency to deal with the problem,’ he said.
‘One wonders whether there’s a disincentive for the Government to increase the rate of spending when they’re using it on their bottom line.’
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers also criticised the Government and said ‘short-changing’ Australians with disability ‘is not an economic policy’.
‘The defining feature of the 2018–19 Final Budget Outcome is a $4.6 billion underspend in the National Disability Insurance Scheme,’ he said.
‘These new numbers show the Morrison Government is propping up their Budget by denying Australians with a disability the care they need, deserve and were promised.’
According to the Government, 115,000 people have been added to the NDIS this financial year, taking the total number of participants to 300,000, while doubling expenditure on the scheme from $4 billion to $8.5 billion.

Overall, it expects 500,000 Australians will access the scheme over the next five years, with NDIS spending forecast to increase to $14.3 billion by the end of the current financial year.
Despite the transition issues, Associate Professor Davis said the scheme has still benefitted many people.
‘In some cases the system wasn’t good to start with before the rollout of the NDIS,’ he said.
‘It is variable. You have people that the NDIS has been an absolute revelation for and very good in terms of the flexibility, but in other cases you have more acute problems that they’re not as capable as dealing with as in the past.
‘For example, you have patients who have been admitted to hospital because carers can no longer cope, and they remain there pending suitable accommodation to be arranged for them.
‘It’s a very expensive way of dealing with an issue and can be quite inappropriate, too especially if you have a person who does have some behavioural challenges and they’re trying to keep them in an environment with other vulnerable people.’
Associate Professor Davis said GPs can play a role in helping these people, as well as others having trouble with the scheme, by assisting with applications and reviews of NDIS plans.
‘GPs are an important advocate for patients with disability,’ he said.
‘We have a unique perspective that encompasses both family and individual. The NDIS has got fair regard for GPs’ perspective on things, and when we do advocate for patients they take that quite seriously.’

disability Federal Government National Disability Insurance Scheme NDIS

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