A report has painted a grim picture of the life of a disability care worker under the NDIS and questions whether the scheme will be able to achieve  the historic social reform it promised.

The report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work says the NDIS has fundamentally changed the nature of work and employment in the disability sector – and not necessarily for the better.

The scheme, which is expected to create some 70,000 jobs in the first year of operation, has the potential to create a whole new high-quality service industry, according to the Precarity and Job Instability on the Frontlines of NDIS Support Work.

But instead of opportunity, the report authored by Professor Donna Baines, Dr Fiona Macdonald, Dr Jim Stanford and Jessie Moore finds stress, instability and lack of support for frontline workers.

A disability services program that organises support in the same manner as digital platforms organise fast food delivery or taxi services, is not likely to achieve the high standards of respectful, individualised support that the NDIS’s architects hoped for

It also highlighted lack of funding for transport, increased risk of violence against carers, poor management relationships and a culture where workers are treated as “productive inputs”.

Centre for Future Work director Dr Jim Stanford.

The report is based on 19 interviews with NDIS support workers and case managers in the NSW Hunter region, one of the four sites for initial trials of the scheme, which will eventually provide services for an estimated 475,000 participants at a cost of $22 billion a year.

The authors say the potential of the NDIS will be squandered unless  shortcomings in the quality and stability of work areaddressed.

“Other expert reviews have already indicated that the effective roll-out of the NDIS is being negatively affected by inadequacies in recruiting and retaining a suitably qualified, motivated, and compensated workforce,” the report concludes.

“Our interviews provide corroborating case-study evidence for this concern.”

The study found:

  • Irregular hours and incomes are the source of increased mental and physical stress
  • New workers are often less skilled, less trained, less experienced and sometimes reluctant
  • Informal and inconsistent provision of transport is shifting costs to workers
  • Workers are experiencing increased levels of violence in their work
  • Relationships with managers have changed under the new system with less supervision, support and training
  • Extreme worker turnover

The authors say many factors have contributed to the situation including the shift to a the market-based service provision model as well as a lack of funding and training.

Gig economy

The report says the NDIS is affected by gig economy-style casualisation and fragmentation with little job stability and no opportunity to develop professional capacities.

“A disability services program that organises support in the same manner as digital platforms organise fast food delivery or taxi services, is not likely to achieve the high standards of respectful, individualised support that the NDIS’s architects hoped for,” the report says.

The report also says failures in the unit price model are threatening the sector’s capacity to invest in overhead and infrastructure including staff training, supervision, and even safety.

“It is hard to imagine how the laudable goals of voice and empowerment can occur within this increasingly cost-focused, under-resourced, commercialised space,” the report says.

“A great deal of ongoing dialogue, research and policy development will be required in coming years to address the realised shortcomings of the current NDIS plan design, and implement reforms that will allow the scheme’s laudable objectives to be met more completely.”

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