By Rebekah Devlin
A “thoughtful” budget that marks the beginning of an ongoing financial reset for the community services sector is how two disability organisations have assessed last night’s first budget from the Albanese government.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) welcomed Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ budget, saying it was “a thoughtfiul budget with more to do” – recognising the attention to NDIS and other targeted reforms, including education and skills measures, housing and women’s safety.
PWDA praised a renewed attention to the NDIS. “The 17 per cent rise to support costs and an increase in individual supports will see benefits flow to NDIS participants,” PWDA President, Samantha Connor says.
PWDA also welcomed the announcement of $12.4 million to reduce the number of appeals and an additional $21.2 million to support participants and their families with appeals. Along with funding to appoint 380 additional permanent frontline NDIS staff, this Budget has the potential to reduce some key stressors for people with disability who are NDIS participants.
PWDA says other positive announcements included 480,000 fee-free spots in vocational education and training, targeted to priority groups, including people with disability, First Nations people and job seekers.
“Fee-free vocational education places are a step toward removing the affordability barrier people with disability face when training for meaningful careers,” Samantha says.
Additional funding of $485.5 million to fund an additional 20,000 university places for students from under-represented and low socio-economic backgrounds would also help offset barriers for students with disability and other disadvantaged groups.
PWDA also welcomes the cost of living/health announcement that will see the decrease of the maximum co-payment under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from $42.50 to $30 per script. “People with disability not only face rising cost of living pressures but also costs of disability, so relief in the form of lower medication costs is welcome,” says PWDA Deputy CEO, Carolyn Hodge.
However, PWDA is concerned about other health announcements including “the lack of targeted measures for people with disability and the cessation of the response”. “COVID is not over!,” Samantha adds.
The Housing Australia Future Fund will provide a welcome $10 billion investment across State and Territories, including 20,000 new social housing dwelling and 4,000 for women and children impacted by family and domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness.
One area of concern is the absence of serious reforms around income support for people with disability, especially those affected by the COVID pandemic. “Those already living in poverty will be disproportionately affected by higher interest rates, housing and energy costs,” says Samantha. PWDA holds concerns that those most disproportionately affected by poverty will be further impacted by any impending economic crisis. “We welcome a small $1,000 increase in the annual rate of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Payment for eligible disabled veterans to help with cost-of-living pressures, but recognise that this is not enough,” she says. “We will be looking for more from the next budget.”
While the Government will provide $630.4 million over four years from 2022–23 to strengthen Australia’s resilience to disasters, there is no dedicated measure to ensure people with disability will be safe in climate emergencies and other disasters. PWDA calls upon government to ensure that targeted emergency preparedness measures are developed and implemented urgently.
The Benevolent Society, one of Australia’ first charities, also welcomed last night’s budget, saying it was a “much-needed gesture of good faith” to the sector.
“The Federal Government’s commitment to providing $560 million over four years to help the community services sector continue to maintain existing services for the most vulnerable in our community is a much-needed gesture of good faith. We hope this marks the beginning of an ongoing financial reset for the sector, with more funding commitments in the next federal budget,” says Benevolent Society CEO, Lin Hatfield Dodds.
“Supporting the rising needs of vulnerable families and communities across Australia experiencing financial distress has put our under-funded sector under serious pressure – this budget provides us with confidence that this government is prioritising and responding to this critical issue.
“Education is a critical pathway out of poverty and we are pleased to see that discussions at the Job Summit have translated into action, especially the $922 million to increase vocational skills funding to address workforce gaps. It is also encouraging to see the Government’s commitment to target education investment towards supporting First Nations, diverse and other under-represented people groups complete tertiary studies.
“The Benevolent Society also welcomes the budget’s strong focus on creating better job opportunities for women and reducing the barriers that they face balancing their jobs with having children. As a charity that supports the wellbeing of thousands of women and families in Australia, we will always back pragmatic decision-making that aims to improve their lives.”