Fact: Only 53 percent of Australians with disability are in the workforce or actively seeking work, compared with 83 percent for people with no disability.
Fact: The Australian Government spends over $220 million per year to support people with disability to receive employment support in their workplace.
Fact: Despite this level of investment, the number of people with disability participating in the workforce has been decreasing since 2003.
These trends suggest it is time for the disability sector to expand on its philosophy of supporting ‘choice, voice and control’ for people with disability.
Surely our mission of social inclusion should also embrace satisfying, paid employment at whatever level is appropriate for each person’s needs and aspirations? After all, paid employment is a key enabler of social inclusion for every Australian – and people with disability should not be excluded.
A ‘work first’ approach can be taken without undermining the person-centred ‘choice and control’ philosophy. However, we will need to re-think training and paths to employment, incentives for employees and providers, and existing funding models.
Funding to support employees with disability is transitioning to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). However, currently only 2.2 percent of NDIS plans include vocation as a line item. Instead, social participation is a priority – following accommodation and direct support services.
There is a funding disparity between these line items in NDIS plans. For example, support for a person with disability to access community, social and recreational activities is funded to almost $45 per hour.
However, it is little more than $18 per hour for a group of three people to providing a path to employment through capacity-building activities such as training on independent travel, time and financial management, and self-care.
NDIS pricing for disability employment support must be adjusted to more realistic levels to provide additional funding for these vital supports and services.
There is also more work to be done on the Supported Wage System (SWS). This enables special workplace arrangements to be created so employers can pay wages to a person with disability based on how productive they are in their job.
National Disability Services (NDS) – the industry peak body for our sector – is pushing for additional wage assessment methods to be made available for Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs). The risk is that the impact of the modified SWS on wage costs under the National Disability Insurance Scheme remains unclear.
The NDS has modelled average increases in wage costs of 30 to 60 percent. If the Supported Wage System remains the only available wage assessment tool, jobs for people with disability could be lost – and so too will be opportunities for full social inclusion.
Achieve Australia is advocating the bundling of supported employees’ wages and welfare benefits into what we are terming a ‘social wage’.
This approach would result compensation close to the National Minimum Wage for employees with disability. Clearly, this would have both economic and social benefits.
The overlap between social inclusion and rewarding employment cannot be ignored. The Australian Government Institute of Health and Welfare tells us that one in three people with disability don’t go out as often as they would like, and two in five avoid community situations because of their disability.
A work first approach would help to bridge this gap. In our society most teenagers have part-time jobs, then as adults work full time to support their independence, social and recreational activities.
Shouldn’t we enable more Australians with disability to achieve similar levels of social and financial independence?
The issues around supported employment for disability are complex but if the Australian Government, the NDIS and providers like Achieve can work together, they can be resolved.