Budget 2018/19 - What's in and what's out to support women with disabilities to thrive

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Recently the National Foundation for Australian Women (@NFAWomen) released their annual Gender Lens on the Budget document. This comprehensive and highly collaborate effort includes analyses of how the Federal budget falls for women, identifying the winners and losers for a range of policy positions including social services, education and training, employment, health, and elimination of violence against women. It also provides an overview of how the Budget will shape the lives of women, including young women, older women, Indigenous women, migrant and refugee women, and women with disabilities. Today's post summarises the analysis authored by Sue Salthouse (@sudata) on budgetary impacts for women with disabilities. Her analysis indicates that the current budget is over-reliant on the NDIS to support women with disabilities, while other critical aspects such as affordable housing and a supportive welfare system are ignored. The Federal Budget papers can be accessed here.

Winners

There are only implied indirect wins for women with disabilities in this budget.

Losers

Women with disabilities who are not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) because they are ‘insufficiently disabled’ by their impairment and/or who are older than 65, are seeing increasing erosion of benefits.

The Budget

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

Women with disabilities eligible for the NDIS packages have noted and welcomed the allocation of $43billion to fund the NDIS over the forward estimates to 2021–2022. This funding takes the scheme past the projected date of full rollout. However the allocation of this money is predicated on matching by the states/territories to provide $40billion to fund the scheme, so that overall there is not yet secure funding. There is no evidence that the $43billion is hypothecated.

 The 2018 Budget puts a strong faith in the NDIS. In employment the predicted strong employment growth in the care industries associated with providing support for people with disabilities and the aged will be in jobs for women in the low paid, casual workforce where there is little career development or incentive for skills development. This is indirect assistance for women with disabilities, but it comes at the expense of other groups of women identified in the Australian Government’s 2018-19 Budget Statement Women’s economic capability and leadership, as mainly new mothers and Indigenous and rural women.

 Only 40% of NDIS participants are women. Its rollout is not yet resulting in increased numbers of women with disabilities able to find employment, or increased hours of employment, or indeed having any effect on return to the workforce.

Dreaming of a time when there's no need for anxiety over gaps in government support for women with disabilities.  Photo credit Pexels.

Dreaming of a time when there's no need for anxiety over gaps in government support for women with disabilities. Photo credit Pexels.

Primary carers are not being freed up by having extra supports for their child with disabilities, enabling improved employment outcomes. There is anecdotal evidence of women carers needing to reduce their hours of work in order to attend to the additional administrative work involved in managing an NDIS package.

Social Welfare Measures

Fifty per cent of women with disabilities have incomes in the lowest 2 quintiles, and have higher living costs associated with their disabilities so that any measure which puts them onto a lower level of welfare support will have a disproportionately negative effect.

Income Support for People with Disabilities

The Disability Support Pensions (DSP) is the primary component of Income Support for people with disabilities. The Government will make savings of $428million in 2018-19 (Budget Paper No. 1, pp. 3-24) and $4.5billion over the forward estimates by targeting eligibility for the DSP to reduce the numbers in the scheme. At present women with disabilities comprise only 46% of those on the DSP.

Similarly the Government will make savings of $634million ($2.3billion to 2021-22) by increasing the pension qualifying age (Budget Paper No. 1, pp. 3-24). This measure will affect women with disabilities to a greater degree, because they live longer than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to be unemployed, or in extremely low paid jobs, and not to have access to services that were formerly available to all people with disabilities which have now been rolled into the NDIS in bilateral agreements with states/territories.

A small sum of $92.1million over 5 years is earmarked for services to people with disabilities who are not eligible for the NDIS. This is not new money, having been allocated in 2017-18, and is unlikely to alleviate the losses from programs transitioning to the NDIS when there are over 3 million non-NDIS eligible people with disabilities in this category.

Welfare to Work

The NewStart payment has not been raised, despite calls from a wide variety of agencies and corporations. At the same time the raft of welfare payment saving measures in the budget will force higher numbers of women with disabilities onto NewStart. This will have knock-on consequences for mental health breakdown and accommodation crisis.

In the same category of savings, the government will save $241million in 2018-2019 ($721million to 2021-22) in the Job Seeker Income Support category by being more stringent about welfare to work measures and tightening eligibility so that fewer people get welfare (Budget Paper No. 1, pp. 3-25).

Women with disabilities face bigger barriers in getting work, even when their qualifications are equivalent to or greater than for their male counterparts.  Fifty per cent of women with disabilities have incomes in the lowest 2 quintiles, and have higher living costs associated with their disabilities.

The Government will extend the Department of Human Services' (DHS) fraud detection and debt recovery activities. From 1 July 2019, welfare recipients who have not paid a court-imposed fine will have money deducted from their regular payment until the debt is paid. Women with cognitive impairment are highly likely to be caught in this debt recovery program. They will not qualify for the NDIS, yet will have lower organisational skills accompanied by higher living costs for medications without the resourcefulness to find a way to get out of a debt cycle. The services that might previously have supported these women and lessened the chance of getting into debt have been rolled into the NDIS.

From 1 July 2021, DHS will continue to ‘enhance the integrity of social welfare payments’ by extending data matching activities with the ATO. The mere rumour of this happening will increase the stress levels of women with disabilities. These measures will mean the Government hopes to achieve savings of $299.3 million over 3 years from 2019-20 (Budget Paper No. 2, p.178).

There is $99million for implementation of the new Disability Employment Services framework, although no pro-active allocation for women with disabilities, and despite the fact that the larger numbers of women with disabilities of working age account for less than half of the DES service offers at present. This is a dire need, with the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities at a mere 53.4% compared to an 83.2% participation rate for the non-disabled. There are 60 000 fewer men with disabilities of working age (15-64) – 1.5m compared to 1.1m women with disabilities. Employment outcomes for women with disabilities are poor, with only 20% being employed full time. Women with disabilities who do get work are concentrated in part time work (25% compared to 16% of men with disabilities).

A small allocation of $0.5million is allocated to disability advocacy organisations to assist people with disabilities who may transition from Australian Disability Enterprise employment to another ADE (Budget Paper No. 2, p.176). There are about 20,000 people with disabilities in ADEs (with gender breakdown not publicly available).

A further $0.5million has been allocated for consultation with stakeholders to aid in the development of new models for supported employment, enabling it to operate consistent with the NDIS and to aid smooth transition to the NDIS for those already working in Australian Disability Enterprises.

Other budget measures

The Income Test threshold for Carer Allowance payments has been raised to $250K (Budget Paper No.2, p. 74).

The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement has attracted $1536 million over 4 years, and it is good to see some continuity even though it does not represent an increase in income. Its parallel program, the National Affordable housing Specific Purpose Payment, did not attract any new money having been allocated $1360 million over 5 years in 2017-18 (Budget Paper No. 3, p. 21). Women with disabilities are disproportionately over-represented in housing stress and homelessness. There is occasional anecdotal evidence that women with disabilities are using prostitution as a means of earning money to maintain rental accommodation, and this funding may enable services to ameliorate any such trend.

Women with disabilities will be disproportionately affected by the reduction in funds for Housing and Community amenities with decreases in the National Partnership Payments to States/territories (this initiative also reflects the completion of urban development commitments) (Budget Paper No. 1, pp. 6-8). There is no funding for women’s emergency accommodation for women escaping situations of violence. Current shelters do not cater for women with disabilities. The funding of $338million in mental health for suicide prevention, older Australian and Mental Health research may also have an indirect affect on women with disabilities, especially those who are not eligible for the NDIS.

Recommendation

As a priority, NFAW recommends that that the Government fund special measures to implement the recommendations of the UN Committees for Human Rights Conventions to Australian governments, to ensure that women from marginalised groups have priority for accessible housing and access to Disability Employment Services.

References

Australian Government (2018), 2018-19 Budget: Women’s economic capability and leadership https://www.pmc.gov.au/resource-centre/office-women/2018-19-budget-womens-economic-capability-leadership

Commonwealth Government (2018) Budget Paper No.1 - Budget Strategy and Outlook, AGPS, Canberra.

Commonwealth Government (2018) Budget Paper No.2 – Budget Measures, AGPS, Canberra.

Commonwealth Government (2018) Budget Paper No.3 - Federal Financial Relations, AGPS, Canberra.

This post is part of the Women's Policy Action Tank initiative to analyse government policy using a gendered lens. View our other policy analysis pieces here.