The problems experienced by Australians with disabilities have been years in the making and things are set to get worse if governments of all levels do not act urgently to tackle the deprivation experienced by this relatively powerless section of our community.
The Institute of Health and Welfare recently announced findings that Australia is looking at a rise in the number of people with a disability due to an increasing ageing population. The impact this will have on the provision of health care and disability services will be significant.
Already we have a situation where disability services are stretched to capacity, where government support for carers of the disabled is far from adequate and constantly under attack and where incentives for workforce and community participation is piecemeal at best. In order for there to be any significant change, governments need to view the provision of assistance to the disabled as a priority and they need to learn from past mistakes.
Ministers from all governments have agreed to work towards a fourth Commonwealth and State and Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA) which would come into force in July 2007. While the principles behind the CSTDA such as improved access to services, and assisting carers and families are admirable, the agreement has consistently failed to translate those principles into outcomes that address the needs of people with a disability.
The Australian National Audit Office recently found that the third CSTDA was deficient in failing to provide ‘indicators of the quality of life of people with disabilities, their participation in the community, their value in the community or any related parameters.’ Without such indicators, the achievement or otherwise of CSTDA aims and objectives cannot possibly be known and the needs and wishes of those with a disability will remain a matter of assumption and guesswork.
This process is simply not good enough. The Senate Community Affairs Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the funding and operation of the CSTDA, but a gap remains now in provision of services by government and that given by the community sector. Advocacy for people with disabilities is also under threat, reducing even further the chances of funds and services being applied in a way that genuinely addresses need. There is also the ever increasing burden on carers and the families of those with a disability.
Governments are currently saving billions of dollars annually by relying on the community sector and carers to provide essential services and support for people with a disability. The roles that these organisations and individuals provide cannot be overstated. Carers are among the most disadvantaged and least supported members of our community.
One off Carers’ Bonuses are simply not sufficient to recompense people whose lives are sometimes consumed completely by their duties to the person for whom they are caring. There are also glaring problems with the access of carers to respite services.
Respite, particularly for young carers, is insufficient. For most, this is equivalent to annual leave for a worker although carer responsibilities often go beyond the ordinary work hours of 9 to 5 and they sometimes have care of an individual 24 hours a day. For young and mature carers respite is a financial burden that many cannot afford. There is a desperate need being voiced by carers for access to adequate and affordable respite.
Governments, both state and federal, like to talk up the work they are doing and the commitment they have provided to support people with a disability, their carers and a community sector increasingly called on to provide essential services. The reality for those groups and individuals providing these essential services remains a stark contradiction to government claims.
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