A woman makes a purchase in a farm cafe via contactless payment.

A joint taskforce intended to boost employment opportunities for people with a disability has been established by the Morrison Government.

Making the announcement at a National Disability Services CEO forum in Melbourne, Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher said that despite their enthusiasm, commitment and good reputation as employees, people with disability too often find it hard to get into the workforce.

The taskforce will look at how participants in the NDIS are best supported to seek employment, through the NDIS through existing mainstream services such as Disability Employment Services.

“It will make sure employment is prioritised in the NDIS planning and plan review process to improve employment supports in participant plans, including greater use of existing employment services,” the minister said. “Other responsibilities include finalising pricing for employment supports under the NDIS to include supported employment, aligning with the government’s broader jobs agenda.”

However, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin said to fully understand the purpose and impact of this taskforce, further detail is needed.  “For example, it is not clear to me that people with disability will be an integral part of the taskforce.  It is critical that when issues affecting people with disability are discussed, that the voices of people with disability are at the forefront of such discussions. I have concerns that the minister stated that the taskforce will ensure supported employment is successfully transitioned into the NDIS. The focus should be on creating employment opportunities in mainstream society, we need to move away from closed environments where people with disability are segregated and not able to interact and be with other people,” McEwin told F2L.

Whilst the NDIS has a very important role to play in the area of employment, the greater need is for employers everywhere to be open to removing discrimination in the workplace, from recruitment, commencement to ongoing support and career progression, he said, adding that any work done in this area should focus on inclusion of people with disability in mainstream employment, rather than supported employment.

“I believe that we need to ensure that people with disability both get jobs and are remunerated appropriately just like anyone else.  The culture of low expectations of people with disability in employment needs to be challenged and removed. Based on my national consultations in 2016, people with disability want to be able to have a job that means something to them and to be part of society.  Segregated employment settings are contrary to this.

“It is important to encourage all employers to think about the many possibilities and benefits of including people with disability in the workplace. The NDIS is not for all people with disability and systemic changes are needed to ensure all people with disability, including those without NDIS plans, have equitable access to mainstream employment,” he said.

National Disability Services (NDS) CEO, Chris Tanti also believed that the key challenge for the taskforce will be developing recommendations that ensure greater participation in the workforce by NDIS participants to make sure assessment and planning processes focus on employment, if that is a goal for participants.

“The taskforce looks at the sustainability of disability enterprises, including long-term pricing that reflects the true costs of providing supported employment. It’s important that the government makes sure that we have stronger and more uniform transition supports for young people with disability who are leaving school and looking for jobs,” Tanti told F2L. “NDS is concerned that the interface between the NDIS and Disability Employment Services program needs to work more effectively.

“At this point it is not clear who the members of the taskforce are and we look forward to hearing who will be involved. The taskforce must include representation of all relevant parties that can contribute to the development of sound employment policy for people with disability which enhances their workforce outcomes, and that includes the business community.”

Tanti believes the announcement of the taskforce is an encouraging sign that the government has acknowledged that employment needs to be made a high priority under the NDIS. And to ensure the sustainability of the NDIS, it was imperative that the current unacceptably low employment rate of people with disability be reversed, which was an outcome integral to the original vision of the NDIS, he said.

“If we do really want to improve employment opportunities for people with disability we need five very important things. These are policy reform that removes employment obstacles for Disability Support Pension recipients; better engagement of employers, including more targeted incentives; improved assessment processes around jobseekers with disability; an easing of the compliance burden on DES providers; and a more coordinated whole of government approach to employment in the new National Disability Agreement.”

About 14 per cent of working age people in Australia has a disability but people with disability comprise only nine per cent of the workforce and overall employment of NDIS participants has remained consistent at 22 per cent.

Funding boost…

Organisations are invited to apply for funding to drive NDIS jobs and market growth which are open to new and existing NDIS providers. Applications for the first round of the Jobs and Market Fund (JMF) grants are part of a government investment of $45.6m.

“The introduction of the NDIS has brought a new way of doing business for disability services as well as a shift in the way people engage with these services,” the minister said. “We are looking to fund innovative projects for up to two years that will increase NDIS provider and workforce capability.”

It includes projects to help address under-supplied markets, including rural and remote Australia, as well as development of digital platforms such as online therapy or service coordination hubs.

Applications close January 17, 2019. For further information visit: https://www.comunitygrants.org.au