THE HERALD'S OPINION: Hunter disability advocacy services faces loss of NSW government funding

FROM the very start, the National Disability Insurance Scheme was promoted as a funding revolution.

CONCERNS: Chief executive of Hunter-based Disability Advocacy NSW. Picture: Marina Neil

CONCERNS: Chief executive of Hunter-based Disability Advocacy NSW. Picture: Marina Neil

Instead of those needing help having to take what was on offer from “block-funded” charities or government agencies, the NDIS put the funding dollars directly in the hands of recipients, who then choose where to obtain the services they need. While the theory has reportedly worked well in practice for some people whose disabilities are not that cognitively severe – or for those who have family or friends to help them negotiate – the situation is not always so straightforward for those who cannot make themselves easily understood, or who are unable to persuade the NDIS planners of their needs.

As things stand, organisations such as the Hunter-based Disability Advocacy NSW play a substantial role in advocating for people with disability in a range of situations.

But its ability to continue providing this service appears to be threatened, because under the NDIS, the NSW government has opted to transfer all of its disability services to the federal sphere by June 30, 2018, meaning that its funding to Disability Advocacy and similar organisations is scheduled to finish on that date.

 The NSW government says it has an obligation to avoid duplication with Canberra, and argues that the work done by disability advocates is largely funded under the NDIS.

But in its latest report on the NDIS, the Productivity Commission takes a different view, saying that disability advocates “help participants in a way that NDIS supports cannot”. The commission says advocates can help participants “get better plans, find supports [and] navigate the new scheme with its new jargon and complexities”, while providing “systemic advocacy about difficulties faced by people with disability”.

It says that advocacy will remain important during the transition into the NDIS, and that funding should be restored by those governments that have ended or reduced the amounts that have allocated to disability services.

Disability Advocacy NSW works across much of regional NSW and its loss of state funding would inevitably mean a reduction in the services it provides, not all of it to NDIS recipients. Regardless, its clients are all people facing major difficulties of some type or another: people who may otherwise fall through the cracks without the support of a regional advocacy service.

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