Monday, August 01, 2011

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is getting closer by the day

Victoria has been chosen to test a $6 billion national disability insurance scheme that its backers claim will be the biggest social reform since Medicare.

The scheme, which is among recommendations from the Productivity Commission to be delivered to the government today, will provide high-quality long-term support to anyone who acquires a significant disability, regardless of whether it was related to work and regardless of the state in which it took place.

The result of an 18-month investigation, the recommendations are expected to be stronger and more specific than those in an interim report delivered in February.

Victoria has offered to host a trial of the national scheme and has set up a taskforce to advise on its design.

The recommendations to be delivered to Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten today are understood to set out a timetable for the trial and name Victoria as the host state.

Funded out of Commonwealth revenue at an estimated cost of $6.3 billion per year, the scheme would provide support services to about 360,000 Australians under strict guidelines.

Whereas Medicare is funded by a levy paid by all taxpayers, the Productivity Commission has made no such recommendation on the disability insurance scheme, saying that the government should fund the scheme out of general revenue...

The trial would begin in 2014 and the scheme would go national in 2015, gradually expanding in scope. The scheme would be managed by an independent National Disability Insurance Agency, whose board would be appointed by state, Commonwealth and territory governments.

Former NSW government minister John Della Bosca, a director of the lobby group Every Australian Counts, said he expected the Commonwealth to endorse the recommendations.

"No one is jumping up and down and insisting the government introduces it tomorrow," Mr Della Bosca told The Age.

"What is important is that the government begins the process. To anyone who believes there is any role for government this is a no-brainer.

"The cost of doing nothing is enormous. Without intensive support people who could work are cut off from the workforce. We are denied taxpayers, we are denied consumers and the health and criminal justice systems get tied up with people who could be supported in the community."

Mr Shorten is expected to release the report along with an initial response within a week.

Coalition disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield backed the scheme on the release of the interim report, offering bipartisan support on the question of funding.

"Disabled people and their families wouldn't welcome talk about where the money is coming from," he said in February. "They have a very low threshold for politics."

The recommendations come as the government has released proposed tougher guidelines for accessing the disability support benefit, which will cut the number of people assessed as eligible for the benefit by about 40 per cent. Starting in January, they would not apply to people already on the benefit.

The Australian Council of Social Service has broadly supported the move but said it wanted the Newstart unemployment payment increased.

"People on Newstart receive $128 per week less than those on disability support benefit," said president Cassandra Goldie.

"Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the job prospects of people with disabilities, all tightening of access to benefit will achieve is to leave people with disabilities $128 per week poorer."

Published in today's Age

Those new impairment tables...

Statement from the Minister Jennny Macklin:

The Gillard Government is improving support for Australians with disability to help them into work where possible, while providing an essential safety net for Australians unable to work.

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, today released proposed new Impairment Tables to be used in Disability Support Pension (DSP) assessments.

“The new tool will make sure that people applying for the Disability Support Pension will be assessed based on what they can do and not what they can’t do,” Ms Macklin said.

“I want to see people who have some capacity to work doing so.”

The Impairment Tables used to determine eligibility for the DSP were last updated in 1993. Last year the Australian Government commissioned an expert Advisory Committee to review the tables and recommend revisions that are up to date with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practices.

Following a thorough review, the Advisory Committee has provided its final report to the Government.

The report finds that the current Impairment Tables are out of date. The Advisory Committee has developed new Impairment tables in close consultation with the medical profession and disability stakeholders.

The report recommends the new Impairment Tables be used to assess eligibility for the DSP from 1 January 2012.

These revised tables have been developed following extensive consultation, and ongoing consultation will occur as they are implemented.

“I believe we can do better than a lifetime spent on income support for Australians who have some capacity to work,” Ms Macklin said.

“Work provides purpose and dignity and a greater sense of achievement and pride.

“Of course, the Disability Support Pension is and will remain an essential part of our social safety net for those who are unable to work.”

The report finds the current Impairment Tables contain anomalies and inconsistencies which have distorted the assessment process. For example, when hearing impairment is assessed, a person with a hearing aid is not required to wear it but someone who is having their sight impairment assessed must wear their glasses.

In line with the Advisory Committee’s recommendation, the Government will consult closely with disability stakeholders, mental health advocates and medical experts and professionals to ensure the recommended new tables are implemented fairly and effectively.

Modernising the Impairment Tables is critical to ensuring DSP assessment processes are consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practice and accurately and effectively identify people who can work. This is a key part of the Government’s welfare reforms which are focused on supporting people into work wherever possible.

Advisory Committee final report to Government

The revised Impairment Tables

Report from Taylor Fry Pty Ltd on the Analysis of the Testing of the draft Impairment Tables

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