Disability service providers have been left to assess their long-term viability amid a debate about the true cost of services.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) announced a 4.5 per cent increase for daily activity and community participation services — equivalent to about $2 per hour on basic rates.
They also commissioned an independent inquiry into pricing starting immediately, with results due by the end of the year.
But for Empowerability, a disability service provider in western Sydney with 300 high-needs clients, the 4.5 per cent increase will not be enough to make ends meet.
CEO of Empowerability Narelle Dale is worried they will not be able to last another couple of months. (ABC News: Kathleen Calderwood)
“We’re now at a basic rate of $42.79 (per hour) which works out about $10 less than what it worked out under the old system, bearing in mind we’ve doubled our admin work, and our payroll and our management of staff,” CEO Narelle Dale said.
“After our direct staff costs, after we pay the hourly rate, the superannuation and insurances, we basically have $6 per hour to cover everything else.
“At the moment we’re seeing between $35,000-40,000 a month loss, which for a small to medium organisation like ours is a big threat.”
Ms Dale said they would need the hourly rate to rise to at least $49 to break even.
“If we don’t do something we won’t be able to sustain past another couple of months,” she said.
‘What 19yo wants to hang out with their mum all the time?’
For 19-year-old Caillum Clarke, support services that allow him to access the community are vital to his quality of life.
He was diagnosed with autism at aged two and also has a moderate intellectual disability, epilepsy and severe ADHD.
“[Without access to the community] he would be hanging out with his mum all the time, now what 19-year-old wants to hang out with their mum whether they’ve got a disability or not?” his mother Libbi said.
“I’ve got to have a life too… I’ve got to be able to have a bit of stress-free time too.
Caillum Clarke, 19, has been given valuable community connection through disability service providers. (ABC News: Kathleen Calderwood)
“First thing…at 6.30 in the morning, he is in your face and I’ve got to shower him and dress him and give him breakfast and then it’s constant all day long.”
Since finishing high school and taking part in community activities, Caillum has improved in his social skills and communication, Ms Clarke said.
“He’s never told me about his day, he never tells me about anything and now even friends of mine have said ‘wow, Caillum actually spoke to me and had a conversation with me’,” she said.
“He’s actually learning from all these people and learning more social skills, so hopefully the more he does it the more he will be able to socialise in a proper manner.”
Ms Clarke said she had to fight to get access to the services he has, and even now she is worried about him running out of funding.
“They’ve given me three to one (care) and Caillum needs definitely one on one (care) out in the real world so we’ll probably run out of money by the end of the year, but at this stage it’s all going good,” she said.
“I think it would be better if they were fairer and looked at the child and the diagnosis and what the child needs, rather than the annoying parent that’s pushing for the money.”
Pricing guarantees sustainability of the scheme: NDIS
A survey by peak body National Disability Services found that two thirds of disability groups are worried they will not be able to keep providing services under current prices.
CEO Ken Baker said this latest review will not be enough to allay those concerns.
“[This] just covers for most services, but not all…[and] the cost of inflation and the cost of decisions by the Fair Work Commission around the minimum wage,” he said.
“That in effect means that those providers…won’t slip any further backwards but it doesn’t take them forward.
“It doesn’t allow them to invest more in training, it doesn’t allow them to employ experienced and skilled staff, it doesn’t allow them to take the decision to enable their organisations to expand to meet the demand that’s coming their way from the NDIS.
“I think their position is no better off.”
A National Disability Insurance Agency spokesperson said, in a statement, that they had considered advice on wage price index, CPI and equal remuneration order increases, and had made comparisons to similar markets.
“The NDIA approach to pricing balances the need for reasonable price increases for providers and keeping supports affordable for participants,” the statement said.
“This is critical not just to participants and providers, but also to the sustainability of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”