The NDIS is having a tough time. Scott Morrison’s decision to drop his increase to the Medicare levy has left funding in a precarious position. Already we see private sector operators like Serco, famed for its dealings with US prisons and offshore detention camps, sensing the public funding vulnerability and swooping in to grab contracts.
But for Gladys Berejiklian, even a weakened and wobbly NDIS still serves a valuable political function. It can be used as cover to abandon the most vulnerable people in the state: the tens of thousands of men and women with acute disabilities living in disability group homes.
Come July, and NSW will become the only state or territory to offer no services or support to those living with severe disabilities.
Until this year, the state government ran half these homes, offering in-house access to behavioural therapists, psychologists, and other necessary resources. Homes like the Ashtonfield Respite Unit, Valley View Group Home, and Chisholm Group Home in the the Hunter.
Under that system, no one could be turned away. Even those with the most challenging behaviours could find a home. But the Berejiklian government has washed its hands of all responsibility for running group homes, turning them over to private operators with no provision of a safety net. The fig leaf it’s using for this abdication of care is the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The NDIS is supposed to provide an open marketplace of services to people with a disability. But the problem with markets is they tend to fray at the extremities. If your care needs are at the complex end of the bell curve, then you are not offering private providers the demand incentive to provide the highly-specialised services you require.
We keep hearing the NDIS is about choice, but if there’s no market interest, then there’s no choice. When the new private providers of these group homes find an individual is not worth the hassle – what happens to them?
That ‘no one is turned away’ guarantee is one the private operators have been very careful not to make. So, inevitably, people with severe disabilities will be pushed through the hospital system, thrown into prisons, or punted onto the streets.
You can save some bucks in the short-term by abandoning group homes, but when people with severe disabilities are evicted from private facilities they will end up putting pressure back on public resources.
Meanwhile, the human cost of this decision is heartbreaking. The families of group home residents are distraught. The quality care they rely on in public group homes is often the only silver lining to an incredibly difficult situation.
But think also of the dedicated carers in these group homes; some of the most astounding and inspirational people you can encounter. Now, many of these experienced public system carers have been forced to transfer to non-government service providers. Some have left the sector.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this situation is how easily the NSW government could fix it. All Gladys Berejiklian needs to do is announce funding for a last-resort care option for those living with severe disability. There is literally nothing within the NDIS system that prevents them making this call.
The NDIS was never designed to be an excuse for state governments to abandon responsibility for our most vulnerable people.