How NDIS costs debate casts people with a disability as a ‘burden’

November 14, 2022

Greens disability spokesman Jordon Steele-John. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

The political debate which has exploded around the spiraling cost of the NDIS is marginalising people with a disability, making them feel like a “burden” rather than a valued part of society.

That’s the view of Jean Cotchin of Every Australian Counts, the national grassroots campaign which fought to create, and then protect, the disability insurance scheme.

The disability community has become accustomed to debate on the NDIS flaring up around the time of each federal budget, as the attention of politicians and the media turns to the scheme’s fast-rising costs.

The debate has been more intense than ever as the Albanese government last month handed down its first budget, which confirmed another $8.8 billion blowout and included forecasts the scheme’s cost would exceed $50 billion in 2025-26.

The budget blowout has sparked debate about whether drastic changes are needed to keep the scheme affordable, including tightening eligibility requirements.

The Every Australian Counts campaign manager said disabled Australians had become a “political football”, drawing comparison with how the LGBTIQ+ communities were made to feel during the same-sex marriage vote in 2017.

The Canberra Times spoke with Ms Cotchin as part of its new series, We need to talk about the NDIS, which is examining the future of the scheme.

“It’s been awful,” she said of the debate.

“It’s incredibly demoralising. It’s another public debate where people are treating us as cost burdens, which has been going on for a long time.”

She said the NDIS budget debate had failed to consider the social and economic benefits of the scheme, which now supports 550,000 participants and a workforce of more than a quarter of a million.

The scheme was always envisaged to be an economic driver.

The Productivity Commission report which inspired the NDIS expected that the economic benefits would “significantly exceed” the costs.

A report from progressive think tank Per Capita last year found that each dollar invested in the NDIS delivered a return of $2.25, as a result of job creation and spending on local businesses.

But aside from that privately commissioned report, there is little published analysis evaluating the return on investment.

“That’s a job that the NDIA should be doing – measuring the economic benefits to Australian society,” she said.

“Because they haven’t done that, it’s been left to the disability sector to go and do that.”

Greens disability spokesman Jordon Steele-John, who is disabled, echoed Ms Cotchin’s comments about the harm the NDIS costs debate was causing.

“It hurts. It really hurts,” he said.

“The reality of being a disabled person is that you are often made to feel like a burden.”

Dan Jervis-Bardy

The Examiner 14/11/22