Not helping those who can’t, helping those who really can
As government MPs are inundated with thousands of furious emails about our treatment of farm animals, the nation has quietly forgotten an issue which goes to our treatment of kids with autism and Downs Syndrome, kids with paralysing physical disabilities which require full-time care, and the lot of those families whose relationships and wallets are tested by their children’s needs.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme has not only stalled, it is being chipped away at by people who argue that the budget bottom line simply cannot sustain such an expensive scheme. The NDIS is the easiest thing in the world to set aside on cost grounds, because the cost is immense.
The free market think tank The Centre for Independent Studies has crunched some numbers showing the cost of the NDIS could be $7 billion higher than first envisaged.
The original government estimates were that the scheme would assist 600,000 people and cost around $11 billion a year. More detailed subsequent work by the Productivity Commission found the scheme would assist 411,000 people at about $15 billion a year. Now, the CIS has obtained a report from the Australian Government Actuary showing the scheme would cost $22 billion a year.
There is a point to be made about what we as a society choose to spend our money on. For example, we are on the cusp of introducing a vastly expensive subsidised dental program. If forced to choose between helping someone with a nasty toothache or the parents of a kid with locked in syndrome, I know which choice I would make. The same point can be made for the often-generous forms of assistance for middle-class Australians who are buying a house, sending their kids to school, having a child for the first time, and also for the politically-driven industry programs to prop up industries in important electorates. We are good at spending money on people who will not suffer overly without it, poor at spending it on people who suffer permanently in its absence.
But setting this philosophical argument aside, there is no point pretending that $22 billion is not a massive amount of money. Supporters of NDIS, such as me, should try to identify ways in which the scheme can be made more financially viable, otherwise it is doomed to remain in the political quagmire which saw states opting in or out at the last Council of Australian Governments meeting.
The disability sector should also be prepared to engage in a sleeves-up discussion about the way in which disability services are funded more broadly, and whether that funding is necessarily valid. The CIS has done a lot of work examining the explosion in the disability support pension in this country over the past two decades. The number of people on the DSP has more than doubled in 20 years.
Clearly the number of people with disabilities has not. We now spend more than $13 billion a year on the 800,000-plus recipients of the DSP. On these figures, every 20th Australian is so incapacitated that they can never work again. It is absurd. We are killing people with kindness by letting them drift into indolence, solitude and depression by focussing on what they can’t do rather than what they could do.
It also masks the real story about unemployment in this country. And it encourages malingerers. When I worked at The Daily Telegraph, we worked up a special report on the DSP, and in one Sydney suburb found several families where all three generations were receiving it, with ADHD being the most common diagnosis for men in their late teens and 20s who had never had jobs and would probably never have jobs.
The danger too with the NDIS is whether qualification for the DSP could be used as the basis for claiming entitlement to the NDIS, even though less than one-third of the people on the DSP have conditions regarded as severe. The current proposal is that 500,000 of the 800,000 DSP recipients will not be eligible for the NDIS. That is reassuring. But of that 500,000, many of them would be better off if they were off the DSP as well, and taking part in society in the workforce. The money we save as a community could then be redirected to those who are genuinely and shockingly disabled, rather than those who currently access that cash through the easy diagnosis of dubious conditions such as ADHD or inter-generational welfare dependency.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…