NDIS: a cause for social policy celebration or concern?

'Every Australian Counts' is the memorable mantra of the citizens' campaign for the NDIS. It speaks volumes about the public demand for a radical change in the delivery of disability care. The promise of the NDIS is to have an inclusive, person-centred care scheme, capable of redressing the 'lottery' of  patchy support systems provided by State and Territory governments. As the first stages of implementation unfold,  it is more important than ever that the NDIS is in a position to deliver true policy innovation. 

In this article, our social policy expert Professor David Hayward, Dean of the RMIT School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, reflects on two vexed aspects of the NDIS - privatisation and funding uncertainty - that merit attention from policymakers and disability advocates. 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme could end up being the single most important social policy innovation since Medicare. But don't get too excited just yet.

There are two aspects of the NDIS that are worth a closer look. The first is how it unfolds as a new mechanism for delivering vastly improved levels of support focused on individualised care. This is to be delivered through administratively constructed markets, in which the major players will be non government providers. Profiting from disability will be a most interesting development, especially as it will occur in markets that may not work to the consumer's advantage. What will happen if money is squandered and entitlements are allowed to go down the drain, or into the pockets of those who should never have been allowed to make a quid in the first place?

The now largely privatised market for vocational education in Victoria is a cautionary tale of what happens when markets are opened up in areas where they don't belong and Governments fritter away hundreds of millions of dollars on shonky providers selling worthless certificates, while allowing quality public providers to go under.

The second issue is whether and how the NDIS ends up being funded. It does not get to full capacity until almost the turn of the decade, and funding has yet to settled. The intent is for the NDIS to be largely paid for out of consolidated revenue with a goodly share paid by the 0.5% increase in the Medicare levy that will kick in on July 1. The trouble is that the Federal government has now capped at 23.5% of GDP the amount it wishes to raise from taxation. That means social policy innovation is effectively part of a zero sum game, with some parts of the welfare state being pared back to pay for anything new, particularly something like the NDIS that will grow rapidly over the next five years.

The NDIS promises to be a terrific innovation. Let's hope that as it grows to maturity it doesn't end up as yet another way for the unscrupulous to rip off the vulnerable and at the expense of other equally important social policy causes that end up being drained to help pay the bill.

Posted by Pauline McLoughlin