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Sunday Telegraph: Disability worker shortage a concern

Jane Morrell shares her opinion about the current disability worker shortage and how Carer Solutions is providing a unique solution to the crisis.

Jane Morrell

By Jane Morrell
Published in the Sunday Telegraph | MAY 19, 2024

As someone who works in the disability services sector, it’s heartbreaking to witness people’s lives being thrown around like a political football as the debate about how to adequately fund the NDIS drags on. 

Schemes like the NDIS exist to give all Australians the opportunity for a good quality of life, regardless of their mental or physical abilities and circumstances. This is what it means to be Australian and, for many of us, is what makes us so proud to live in this country.

The problem is that the wheels of the NDIS have not been able to keep up with the growing demand for its services.

When the NDIS was introduced in 2013, it was originally designed to support one in 50 Australians, according to NDIS Review Chair Bruce Bonyhady. Now, one in five Australians are living with a disability.

As the NDIS attempts to support more and more people, the demand for skilled and qualified support workers is vastly outstripping supply. The problem is so acute that there is expected to be a shortage of almost 150,000 support workers by 2050.

The scheme cannot do what it is designed to do without adequate support workers. There is widespread concern in the sector that reform is moving faster than the workforce can be ready – if we want to avoid seeing people fall through the cracks or lose choice and control. It’s hardly surprising that the needs of the Australian community have become more complex over the course of a decade.

Fraud within the NDIS is often the headline when discussing the system’s financial sustainability. There is no doubt that we need to address this issue head-on, both to protect vulnerable Australians and to achieve significant savings for the sector. However, I believe this often serves as a distraction to bigger issues, such as the lack of enough people to support those on the NDIS.

Sometimes it is far more effective to hold up a mirror rather than a stick.

Among this uncertainty, our Direct Employ model is a unicorn. Carer Solutions is the only service in Australia that has been enabling individuals with disability since 2011 to directly employ people that they already know and trust as disability support workers. 

Our service facilitates everything from payroll to insurance and compliance, along with keeping participants updated with NDIS changes and key information. 

There’s a reason other providers are not doing it (I’ll just say it – it’s incredibly complex to pull off), but this is the service people need and deserve to give them the right outcomes. 

Services like this are what we need to save frustrated and exhausted families across Australia from the struggle of finding and retaining suitable support workers.

Take Louise Wall, for example. Louise’s oldest son, Ethan, has level three autism, is nonverbal, and also has ADHD and an intellectual disability. Finding the right support worker for Ethan was about more than taking care of his physical needs; it was just as important to find someone who could understand and connect with him on a deeper level.

It was only through the Direct Employ service that Louise was able to employ Georgia, a staff member at Ethan’s specialist school. Knowing that Georgia was familiar with connecting and forming trusted relationships with special needs children, allowed Louise to breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, she could have complete peace of mind knowing that her son was being taken care of by someone she wholeheartedly trusted.

While our model has paved the way for over a decade with countless success stories like this, thousands of people continue to struggle. 

The government needs to listen to calls for a simpler and less bureaucratic NDIS. One that focuses on reforms designed to enable people living with disability to make their own decisions –  bringing them to the decision-making table, and investing in the deep co-design work that is required. This approach will make it sustainable. 

For now, we must focus on addressing the immediate labour shortage crisis. This approach is long overdue and we’re talking about the health and wellbeing of thousands of people. 

We would like to see the government do more to address this.

The truth is that the NDIS struggles to think outside the box when it comes to solving these problems. It doesn’t embrace innovation, even when innovative solutions like our Direct Employ model can take pressure off the system.

Imagine if it did, though. Imagine if it was open to a disruptive solution. I have been dreaming of this for nearly thirteen years. 

If you want big results for participants, you must do things differently. We need an NDIS and a government that aren’t afraid to take bold leaps in keeping its promise to improve the lives of Australians living with disability.

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