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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4783


Senator ALLISON (7:28 PM) —I will speak tonight on the subject of people with disabilities and the very significant unmet need in that group. I want to refer to a document entitled Broken promises, shattered lives: a snapshot of unmet need of people with high support needs in their families, which was put out by the National Council on Intellectual Disability in June this year. A number of points were included in that report. The first is that the personal and financial costs to families of intellectually disabled people are high, as is the potential cost to governments of lifetime care for those people. We consistently underestimate the efforts that are put in by the carers of people with disabilities; in this group in particular these are very long-term caring responsibilities.

After 10 years of the Commonwealth State Disability Agreement there are still a very large number of people with high support needs who urgently need services. This may sound like a broken record in this place, and I am sure that the government is sick of hearing about it, but we must not forget the seriousness of the situation. For that reason I remind honourable senators of that unmet need. In fact, under the CSDA—the Commonwealth State Disability Agreement—we have seen an increase in the level of unmet need. Obviously, that forum, that agreement, that mechanism to develop a unified plan for addressing unmet need has failed us. More likely, the CSDA has provided Commonwealth and state governments with an excuse to avoid responsibility. The classic buck-passing has come out of the CSDA. The National Council on Intellectual Disability says that the CSDA has allowed the Commonwealth to provide fewer employment services to disabled people who have high needs. Instead, this funding has been used to provide support to people who are not eligible for the DSP. This is despite the CSDA being explicit that the provision of employment support should come from the Commonwealth.

If the third Commonwealth State Disability Agreement does not address the failures of previous agreements it has failed as a framework to meet the needs of people with an intellectual disability and their families. The current government has not shown a serious commitment to supporting all Australians with disabilities. It is estimated in my home state of Victoria that there are over 5,000 people with an intellectual disability who have unmet needs. Nationally, that figure is estimated to be just under 30,000 people. Whilst most states report an increase in services, because of the ever increasing number of new people registering their needs, there has been very little impact on unmet need. Some states have argued that services for intellectually disabled people have actually decreased.

In Victoria, Commonwealth initiatives were developed and implemented with significant additional funding from the state government. The main new initiative was home first packages, which aimed to support people to live in the community by providing up to 34 hours per week of support in their home or community. But only people with an urgent status on the Victorian Service Needs Register were eligible to be considered. Whilst these packages were effective for some families, for the majority the packages were not a suitable long-term option. The majority of families remained waiting on the Service Needs Register for appropriate support, and a large proportion of those who missed out were intellectually disabled people. The Commonwealth funding did not include 24-hour residential care accommodation.

The Service Needs Register currently has on it over 3,000 people in Victoria requiring accommodation support. The average waiting time for people who are placed on the Service Needs Register for receipt of an accommodation placement is over two years, exactly 810 days. All of these people are considered to be in urgent need—in other words, in very difficult or crisis situations, such as where a parent or a carer has died, accommodation puts them at risk or parents are ill. I think this is a disgraceful situation. The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee is currently looking into services for students with disabilities. After seeing some of the people in this category who would in many cases leave their special school and return home, I was reminded of the very significant level of care that such people need and of the enormous effort that parents need to put in. Overall, the level of services in Victoria has increased, but the number of people receiving placements in the last few years, even with increased funding, is far fewer than the number of people registering their urgent need on the Service Needs Register.

A major issue impacting on addressing unmet need is the government's expansion of target groups for programs—in other words, putting all disabilities into one group. The Commonwealth government has contributed a total of $152 million over two years to deal with unmet need, but this was on the basis that the states match the figure dollar for dollar. One of the main concerns raised by ageing carers was respite care. In a survey of focus groups, they said that respite care was useful and appreciated, centre based respite was needed, as well as in-home respite and packages, and residential arrangements where the carer would be allowed to begin withdrawing from the primary role and was assured of future care arrangements would be greatly appreciated. Typically, these are the main questions asked by ageing carers: `When can I retire from this job? And, if I can't, what happens when I die?'

We know that carers' health can suffer from lack of support, particularly feelings of abandonment by the wider community. Many carers felt that the aged care system was a better system because it offered more choices for clients and carers. No one service type guarantees quality and responsiveness. People want the right to choose the option which most suits them and their environment. To do this, a flexible service model is needed, desired and would be appreciated. To achieve this, a flexible funding model is also needed. Many non-government organisations working within the disability field are severely underresourced, and this can affect the quality of service offered to disabled people.

The Commonwealth State Disability Agreement needs to move from crisis management to proactive planning and case management to succeed. It is conservatively estimated that, in 2001, 12,500 people needed accommodation and respite services, 8,200 places were available for community access services and 5,400 people needed employment service support. People needing assistance with ongoing care, mobility or communication are growing in number, and they are ageing. Between 2000 and 2006, it has been estimated that those aged under 65 years will grow by nine per cent, those aged 15 to 64 years by 12 per cent and those aged 45 to 64 years will increase by 19.3 per cent, or 59,500 people.

There are a large number of people with disabilities using services for the homeless. Disability related pension recipients accounted for 17 per cent of all Supported Accommodation Assistance Program clients in 1999-2000. Repeat use of SAAP services was highest for disability related pension recipients, with requests for accommodation support at 76 per cent and other support, at 82 per cent, being the primary reason for seeking assistance.

Insurance impacts on CSDA: people who are excluded from benefits because of insurance concerns create pressure on government schemes like the DSP. Insurance costs are also impacting on non-government organisations and the work they do. Transport needs, if not met, affect participation in the work force, day programs and general community activity. And equipment and environmental impacts are often overlooked as a way to assist carers and those with a physical disability. Respite services are reported to be significantly supported by the unmet need funding—7,400 people in 2000-01. The estimate of unmet need for accommodation support including in-home support and respite services is 12,500. It was estimated that 5,300 primary carers in the target group of bilateral agreements had never either received respite or wanted it, or had received it in the previous three months and wanted more. The list of unmet needs goes on. (Time expired)