Guru Gary’s Guide to a Sustainable NDIS!

Image is of a bearded man representing and dressed like a guru. He is giving a thumbs up signal.

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. Independent Assessments proposed by the NDIS, and the love child of former Minister Stuart Robert are dead. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when he received the news. 

On Facebook there is an oft shared video of Hitler losing the plot when he hears news that he doesn’t want to hear. People edit it to have captions that fit in with events of the day. Let’s replace Hitler with Minister Robert. He hears the news, grabs the side of the table, breathes heavily, shakes violently and utters these immortal words:

“ Independent Assessments – DEAD???? AGGGGHHHHHHHHH, who will stop these debased disableds spending our money on PROSTITUTES …… “

It is probably closer to the truth than we are all prepared to imagine. But getting back to point, Independent Assessments were yet another idea from someone that doesn’t get disability yet is in a position of power to make decisions about disability. 

The Government is trying to have us believe that the NDIS is over budget. This is part of their strategy to scare the populace into believing that the NDIS costs too much and is not sustainable. Indeed, they have form for this.

Charlton, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 9th, lists a number of occasions when the Government has tried scare mongering about NDIS blowouts. Here are some:

  1. The now dead debate for independent Assessments claims a $10 billion blowout. The reality is that data shows that the NDIS is meeting all expectations and is not above what was predicted.
  2. Trying to make people believe that the scheme was servicing more people than expected when in reality it is actually serving less.
  3. In 2017 they tried to have us believe that there was a $55 billion shortfall in funding. At budget time the scheme had underspent by over $3 billion. The Government took that money to add to drought relief.

One could be harsh and say the Government outright lies about the real cost of the NDIS. Charlton is kinder and says they are not very good at forecasting. Charlton also suggested that the schemes Governance should be given to the Minister to control. Apparently, at the moment the Minister has virtually no power. Most power is centred on the Board of Governance and the States. It is very difficult for the Minister to override them. Given the Governments track record all I can say is, thank God for that.

However, the Government remains hellbent on reducing NDIS expenditure. We pesky disableds are expensive folk they think. This push to cut costs is not going to go away. I have, therefore, appointed myself as NDIS Guru advising the Government. Here is what I advise.

  1. Employ People that actually understand disability, have lived experience and have worked in the Disability Sector.

Just today a participant told a story on NDIS Grassroots about a conversation she had with a customer support person at the NDIS. He said he was very new. He previously was a bus driver. He had received one week’s training. There he was on the phones fielding questions about the NDIS. The person claimed he was hopeless. Had no idea what he was doing and that she had wasted her time. She was frustrated that the NDIS was employing people with so little knowledge.

Some time ago I wrote about La Trobe Community Health Services who are a LAC partner organisation. A friend of mine with lived experience, and imminently knowledgeable of disability issues, was declined a LAC role. In the rejection letter La Trobe stated that my friend was very qualified but got no cookie this time because, “… we are diversifying our workforce and targeting banking and finance.” (Yes, I saw the email with mine very own eyes.)

I worked at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and they also had a philosophy of employing people from diverse backgrounds. In my time I supervised people from marketing backgrounds, banking and finance backgrounds, a policeman and even teachers. Some of these people turned out really well but many, and I mean many, just never got it. Some of the plans they put out and some of the things they wrote were horrific.  No amount of training could bring them up to speed.

In the upper echelons of the NDIA the NDIS is led by an assortment of bankers and accountants, many who have no clue about disability. To be fair, the NDIA do target people with a disability for management roles. I know a few of these people who have left in disgust because they are not treated the same and their input was not given the same value.

I am a strong believer that a great way to save money is by employing people who understand disability and having them in places of power and decision making. This must include people with a disability. If you understand, you are more likely to make relevant decisions. As I have said often, you wouldn’t employ a nurse to be a teacher or visa versa. Yet for some bizarre reason a banker is employed in a specialist disability program.

On the ground, for developing and approving plans, you need people that get it. You need people that ask the right questions. You need people who have passion to develop a quality and worthwhile plan. Because when you support people with a disability you cannot cut corners in the name of cost. You cannot make it up on the run. 

Quality plans are a must!! Quality plans will save on reviews, save on time, save on legal fees and make sure more money is targeted where it should be – at people with a disability.

That workforce must be improved and one of the priorities should be targeting people with lived experience and who have a deep understanding and passion for disability. 

  • Raise the caps on employing people, employ more (Qualified and understanding of disability of course.)

Last week I met with a senior person in the NDIA. They were telling me that currently there are plans sitting in the system for months and not getting approved because there are not enough staff to meet the demand. 

My friend was telling me that there is a practice among some delegates of just clicking approval for plans that meet the typical support package (TSP). They enter the data in the system and the system generates a support package. This practice occurs because the delegates are either:

  • Stressed trying to keep up.
  • Don’t care.
  • Don’t get it.

When they approve plans that meet the TSP they often do this without really checking whether the plans are actually sufficient and meeting the participants goals. The end result? Shit plans that come back for review, further stressing the system and costing a shit load of money to fix-up

But wait it gets worse! Apparently, there are pockets around the country that are not so busy. So, the NDIA, in their infinite wisdom, decided they to have this sort of National Day. What happens, because there is such a backlog, they send plans to delegates all over Australia who are deemed, “less busy”

What this means is that delegates in Tasmania might receive a plan for someone in Cairns. The delegate in Tasmania might have no idea what is going on in Cairns or even whether the plan they are about to approve is actually viable given remoteness and different State setups. Likewise, someone in Alice Springs, not too busy, might get a shit load of plans from Broome. You get the gist.  It is an absolute recipe for disaster and often is.

The answer? Employ more people and people that actually know what they are doing! You will more likely get a good plan and a good decision that meets the participants needs. An absolute money saver in preventing reviews, complaints and legal challenges.  Try it!

  • Let need and quality not quantity and cheapness be your mantra!

One of the most frustrating things about the NDIS is its obsession with standard. They want standard wheelchairs, standard hearing aids, standard prosthetics and so on. They even have a sort of standard plan that they judge everything under. This is known as the typical support package (TSP). This is generated by the computer logarithm.  The TSP is very often inadequate.

The problem is that standard doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. If someone is an amputee and enjoys swimming and bike riding or perhaps hiking there are any number of clever prosthetics that will allow this to happen. They can be pricey but if it is what the person needs to meet the NDIS mantra of an “Ordinary Life” then it can only be a good thing. Not to mention the economic and community participation it promotes and the ongoing mental health and general health benefits.

But you see many delegates don’t think like that.  They see a price and a standard and they are often hellbent on sticking to it. (Probably because their director is insisting on it.) In the example above the person had an aging prosthetic that often fell off. The person could not leave their home. They had lost confidence and were depressed. When I left the NDIS area they had been trying for two years get what they wanted. I am unsure if they were successful in the end. All I can say is that the NDIS were hellbent on standard, cheaper and less efficient prosthetic that would not have allowed the person to do the things that they wanted to do.

In my time I saw people who had outgrown their wheelchairs. Or they had conditions that had deteriorated. They had specific wheelchairs that were recommended but were above the standard cost. They were often refused necessitating endless reviews. Sanity often prevailed and they got what they wanted in the end but not without a fight. 

I know one parent who tried for three years to get an adapted bike for her child. They were ultimately successful but it took three reviews and endless reports from physiotherapists and OTs to outline the developmental benefits of the bike. These reports actually cost tenfold more than the actual bike itself.

The reason that they gave for refusing. A bike was parental responsibility! I pointed out that most parents don’t have to pay $2500 to adapt a bike so that their child can ride with them and have an “ordinary life”. So, after endless reports, reviews and person hours at great cost, the NDIS agreed. But only if the parents would contribute the standard cost of a bike which was agreed to be around $250. 

The stubbornness to not give or see any type of logic of need in the quest for standard is costing the NDIS millions of dollars in report fees, legal costs and person hours. What is worse is that this stubbornness to stick with standard instead of necessary and quality is causing harm to many people with a disability, physically and mentally. It has to stop.

  • It’s an investment – SAVVY!!!!??

Minister Linda Reynolds, on announcing the demise of Independent Assessments made it very clear that the battle to reduce expenditure is not over. She claims there are people on the NDIS who should not be there and that they are increasing the costs. Probably, but there are an equal number who should have access to the NDIS but are denied. It works both ways. I will say this. If the NDIA continue to employ people that do not know what they are doing and do not understand disability this issue will not go away.

But you know, the claim that the NDIS is too expensive is bollocks. All I hear from our politicians is outgoings. We never hear how the NDIS also benefits the economy. I don’t know how many, but literally hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people owe their livelihoods to the very existence of people with a disability. Paradoxically, Minister Reynolds is one of them at the moment.

Let’s believe for a moment that the Deafness Forum claim that 1 in 6 have a hearing loss.  That’s 4.2 million people in Australia. Buying hearing aids, being supported by audiologist, buying technology like audio streamers, Roger Pens, flashing alarms and so on.  Have you seen Cochlear’s share price, woooo hooo! A proportion of deaf people keep Auslan interpreters and captioners in a job. Throw in speech therapist and teachers of the deaf and you have a booming market that exists just because of people who are deaf.

Other claims are that there are 1 in 5 people with a disability in Australia. That’s less than the number of deaf people. I don’t know if the 1 in 5 accounted for deaf people or not but I do know 1 in 5 is a lot of people. Wheelchairs, prosthetics, allied health professionals, technology, home modifications, support workers and so on and so on. Again, a whole thriving economy.

Take disability out of the picture or reduce expenditure on the NDIS then a whole host of people are going to lose their jobs. A whole heap of business are going to lose their income, What’s worse, if we lose these people to the disability sector, support and services that are already stretched are going to become even more stretched. People with a disability will be in the poo, even more than they are now.

So, to you politicians out there and to you decision makers out there; investing more and not less in people with a disability is helping Australia thrive.  Disability is not a cost, it’s a huge and thriving economy. Our politicians and decision makers need to shift their thinking.

There you have it. Guru Gary’s four step process to making the NDIS sustainable. Summarised:

  1. Employ people that know what they are doing. Do good plans using people that understand disability. There will be more satisfied participants, less backlog in plans and reviews and less, absolutely less, legal fees. ( I would love the NDIA to be accountable and tell us how much they spent on legal fees last year.)
  2. Going cheap is making people with a disability suffer and it’s adding to costs through reviews and legal services. Try spending an amount that will really help and see how it cuts cost in people hours, legal costs and, more importantly, the human cost.
  3. FFS The NDIS is drowning and cant keep up with the work on its plate. EMPLOY MORE PEOPLE and EXPAND THE WORKFORCE. The lack of people power is costing money. (And for god sake, no more bus drivers, please!)
  4. And finally, you need us people with a disability. Without us a whole heap of people all over Australia are out of a job. Spend more and spend wisely and it’s not just people with a disability who benefit, but the whole of Australia!

That is all.

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