Are service providers failing the NDIS?

Are service providers failing the NDIS?

Opinion piece by Richard Orr - Mentor, Catalyst for Change and the Chief Operating Officer for Australian Inclusion Group. Australian Inclusion Group is an incubator for innovative approaches that promote social inclusion.

Are service providers failing the NDIS?

Much has been written in recent times about the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) failures. Even the NDIA admit the scheme is failing in a number of key areas. If you were to take a moment and google “National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) news” you will read headlines such as:

-       The NDIS needs a pricing shake up                                                        

-       Fixing the NDIS is a top priority for the Prime Minister

-       NDIS promises to clear the application backlog

-       NDIS risks collapse unless leaders avert market failure

Much of the news focusses on the governments failures. I consider the government to be an easy target and it isn’t surprising they bear the brunt of the criticisms which have been thrown at the scheme. So let’s suppose for a minute that there will never be such a thing as a perfectly run government scheme. Let’s accept that the NDIS is an imperfect system in which service providers have a responsibility to do whatever we can to make the system work for people. How does this change the conversation? I have written this article to look at the current state of affairs from a different perspective. It asks a more difficult question not asked enough – are service providers failing the NDIS?

To answer this curly question, we must first take a step back and look at the origins of the NDIS. In 2009 the Australian Government released a hugely important consultation report. The Shut Out report documented the experience of people with disabilities and their families in Australia. This report lifted the lid on a broken disability service industry and the experience of many Australians who are shut out from living an ordinary life, which many of us take for granted. The Shut Out report created some much needed momentum which led to the creation of a National Disability Strategy. Fast forward to March 2013 and the NDIS Act was passed in Parliament.

So from an idealistic perspective we could assume the advent of the NDIS Act would have created a tidal wave of change within the disability service industry. Experiences shared in the 2009 Shut Out report and the 2011 Productivity Commission report would surely lead to a radical rethink on how disability service providers organise their organisation to live up to the principles of the NDIS. Sadly, all I see are pockets of innovation lead by small providers, newly registered start-ups and independent advocates. I don’t know of any examples of large providers making the kinds of fundamental changes to their services necessary to live up to the principles of the NDIS. Not one. So yes, it really is time to ask ourselves as service providers – are we failing the NDIS?

As I put pen to paper to write this reflective ramble, the NDIS continues to provide funding to service models which are unlikely to achieve self-determination, social inclusion, individual outcomes or human rights for people with disability. Under the NDIS, institutionalised employment solutions, day centres, institutionalised accommodation options, congregate models of support, community tourism and buses to no-where will still exist. Sector representatives will continue to lobby for the interests of service providers who are heavily invested in approaches which have been proven time and time again to not meet the needs of the people they support or for the broader community. It is easy to blame the government for the continuity of services which will perpetuate social isolation and compromise people’s basic human rights. It is much harder to blame ourselves as service providers for choosing to provide services which won’t lead to positive outcomes for people.

Einstein’s famous quote is relevant to the service providers role in making the NDIS work for people.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Service providers must realise that if we don’t make radical changes to the types of services we provide and the way that those services are provided, it is us who will fail the NDIS – not government. The NDIS affords us an opportunity to reorganise our organisations and design our services around the people we support – not around the organisation.

The title of this article was deliberately provocative. Lobbying the government to make improvements to the scheme is important for the future. The purpose of this article was to bring the focus back to service providers and remind us that preparing for the NDIS involves a radical rethink of who we are and how we can be useful. If we fail to do this we also fail to live up to the principles of the NDIS. 

In future blog posts, myself and a few colleagues intend to share examples of how we have changed our organisation to live up to the principles of the NDIS. The reoccurring theme will be called – Organising Organisations. In these reflective ramblings we hope we can share some of our wins and our failures. We hope that some of our stories may encourage other good people to do whatever it takes to be as useful as possible in the lives of the people they support.  

To be continued …..


Australian Government Productivity Commission: Disability Care and Support -

Shut Out Report -

A brief history of the NDIS -

Image Reference - Heather Simmons, author of Choosing What Matters

Leave A Comment