Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Government Policy and Services to Support and Include People with Disabilities

Government Policy and Services to Support and Include People with Disabilities

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 01/2007 by Lenny Roth
People with a disability in NSW
A national survey on disability in 2003 found that there were 1,190,500 people in NSW with a reported disability, which equated to almost 18 per cent of the NSW population. This included 366,000 people who had a severe or profound limitation in one of the core activities of self-care, mobility and communication. Of those people who had a severe or profound limitation in one of the core activities, over fifty per cent (184,900) were under the age of 65 and 17 per cent (60,600) were under the age of 25.

Major developments in disability policy since 1981
Since the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, the Federal and NSW Governments have shown much greater concern for the welfare, rights and inclusion of people with disabilities and have initiated major policy developments including:
· Deinstitutionalisation
· Installation of a disability service system based on rights and outcomes
· Shift towards employment in the open labour market
· The enactment of anti-discrimination laws
· Policies and measures to facilitate access to mainstream government services
· Rationalisation of Federal/State responsibilities for disability services.

Federal/State responsibilities for specialist disability support
The Federal Government provides specialist income support to people with disabilities. The Federal and State Governments share responsibility for the funding and provision of specialist disability services, as outlined in the Commonwealth, State/Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA). Under the CSTDA, the Federal Government is responsible for employment services and State Governments are responsible for accommodation services, respite care services, and community access and support services. In 2004/05, total CSTDA funding was $3.6 billion, of which the State/Territory Governments contributed 73 per cent and the Federal Government contributed 27 per cent. Under the Home and Community Care (HACC) Agreement, the Federal and State Governments also share responsibility for funding a range of home and community care services. Despite the two agreements, problems arising from Federal/State responsibilities remain.

Regulation of disability support services
The Disability Services Act 1986 (Cth) regulates Federal Government funding of States and eligible organisations in relation to the provision of disability employment services and other eligible services. It also regulates Federal Government provision of rehabilitation programs. The Disability Services Act 1993 (NSW), which was modelled on the Federal Act, regulates NSW Government provision of disability services and funding of eligible organisations to provide disability services. Under the NSW Act funding is conditional on services complying with the objects of the Act and the principles and applications set out in the Act. The NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (DADHC) has adopted 10 Disability Services Standards to assist service providers to meet these objects, principles and applications of principles. DADHC monitors services through annual reporting requirements and on-site assessments of services. The Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Act 1993 (NSW) confers on the NSW Ombudsman general functions in relation to monitoring and review of disability services and it allows complaints regarding disability services to be made to the Ombudsman. Official Visitors appointed under the Act can also inspect disability accommodation services.

Federal Government disability support
The Federal Government provides disability income support and it provides, and funds organisations to provide, disability employment services.

Income support: The main form of Federal Government specialist income support for people with disabilities is the Disability Support Pension (DSP). It has been paid to people aged between 16 and 64 who, because of illness, injury or disability have been unable to work, or to be retrained to work, at least 30 hours per week in open employment within 2 years. As a result of the controversial welfare-to-work changes, which came into effect on 1 July 2006, the 30-hour per week threshold has been lowered to 15 hours per week.

Employment support: The Federal Government funds and provides open employment services, which assist people with a disability to obtain employment in the open labour market. These services include the Disability Employment Network and Vocational Rehabilitation Services. The Federal Government also provides financial incentives for employment in the open labour market, including the wage subsidy scheme, the supported wage system and the workplace modifications scheme. In addition to measures directed at employment in the open labour market, the Federal Government funds a network of Business Services outlets that provide supported employment services.

NSW Government disability support services
The NSW Government provides, and funds organisations to provide, accommodation services, respite care services and community access and support services.

Accommodation: In-home accommodation support for people with a disability is mainly provided under the HACC program, and the Attendant Care Program. Historically, out-of-home accommodation support was provided in large residential centres. However, since the early 1980s there has been a movement towards housing people with disabilities in community-based group homes. In 1998, the NSW Government announced that it would close all large residential centres by 2010. This process commenced in 2000 and since then 11 large residential centres have closed. In 2005/06, over 3,000 people were living in group homes and over 1,700 were living in large and small residential centres and hostels.

Respite: Respite programs provide planned short term and time limited breaks for families and other unpaid carers of children with a developmental delay and adults with an intellectual disability in order to support the primary care-giving relationship. In 2005/06, over 5,000 people with disabilities received CSTDA funded respite care.

Community access and support: Community access and support encompass a range of programs aimed at supporting families as they raise a child or young person with a disability; and, for adults, at bridging the gap between school and vocational choices, promoting independence and community connection. These services include early childhood education services, community support teams (which provide a range of support services including therapy and case management), behaviour intervention services, local support coordinators, day programs, and post school programs. In 2004/05, over 41,000 people received community access and support services.

In May 2006, the NSW Government launched its new 10-year disability strategy, Stronger Together, which involves an investment of over $1.3 billion in the first five years. This includes over $80 million towards strengthening families, over $1billion on promoting community inclusion and over $240 million on improving the system’s capacity and accountability. The strategy aims to create fair and more transparent access, help people remain in their own homes, link services to need, provide more options for people living in specialist support services and create a sustainable support system.

Unmet demand for disability support services
A number of reports have outlined significant unmet demand for disability services nationally. In NSW, reports and articles have documented unmet demand for HACC services, accommodation services, respite care services, and for aids and equipment.

Young people with disabilities in nursing homes
The number of young people with disabilities living in residential aged care services has grown over the last decade and in recent years this issue has become a matter of substantial public concern. There are an estimated 1,350 people with disabilities under the age of 60 living in nursing homes in NSW. At the Council of Australian Governments meeting on 10 February 2006, the Federal and State Governments agreed on a five-year program, commencing in July 2006, to start to reduce the number of young people living in nursing homes: initially targeted at people under the age of 50. In NSW, the plan is expected to assist up to 300 people with disabilities over the next five years.

Disability discrimination laws
Both NSW and Federal anti-discrimination laws make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of disability in a number of areas of public life. The NSW laws make discrimination unlawful in relation to employment, public education, provision of goods and services, accommodation and registered clubs. The laws implicitly recognise that the failure to make adjustments to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities may constitute discrimination. However, the laws do not require persons or organisations to make adjustments that would cause them ‘unjustifiable hardship’. Federal laws have allowed for the making of Disability Standards to provide more certain benchmarks for accessibility and equality than is provided for in the Act. Progress in formulating such standards has been slow and, to date, standards have only been made in relation to accessible public transport (2002) and education (2005).

Policy to promote access to mainstream services
Federal policy: In 1994, the Federal Government launched the Commonwealth Disability Strategy, which provided a 10 year framework for Federal government organisations to identify and remove barriers in program development and delivery; and to develop plans and actions to ensure planning and service provision takes into account the needs of people with disabilities. Following a mid-term evaluation in 1999 a significantly revised strategy was launched in October 2000. A subsequent review of the strategy in 2006 found that it had resulted in “a range of positive outcomes over the past five years” but “people with disabilities had not universally or uniformly enjoyed these benefits in all areas or from all areas of government”. The report proposed future directions in a number of areas.

NSW policy: Section 9 of the Disability Services Act 1993 (NSW) requires all NSW Government departments and other public authorities to prepare, and provide for the implementation of, an Action Plan to encourage the provision of services by that authority in a manner that furthers the principles and applications of principles in the Act. Government agencies are required to work within the NSW Disability Policy Framework (1998) when developing their Action Plans. The policy framework also contains reporting requirements, including a requirement for NSW government service providers to submit an Action Plan to DADHC every three years; and to include in each annual report a summary of progress against performance measures detailed in the Action Plan.

Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
On 13 December 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention will be open for signature and ratification by States as of 30 March 2007. The Convention restates and elaborates on a number of rights contained in existing human rights treaties. Civil and political rights outlined in the Convention include the rights to be free from discrimination, equal recognition before the law, freedom to choose one’s own residence, and respect for privacy. Economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to education, work, just and favourable conditions of work, the highest attainable standard of health, and an adequate standard of living. The Convention requires all States that ratify the Convention to adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures to implement the Convention rights. It also requires these States to submit periodic reports to a UN Committee that will monitor the implementation of the Convention. If, as expected, the Australia Government ratifies the Convention it will have an obligation under international law to implement the Convention. However, ratification will not, of itself, confer any new rights under domestic law.