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Australia’s disability sector is undergoing significant reform with the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS is a new model of providing information, support and services to people with disability, their families and carers and upholds the fundamental right of all Australians to fully participate in the social and economic life of the community.

Local governments currently plan and implement strategies for community well-being and economic outcomes and this sector reform provides an opportunity for local governments to examine their role in increasing the social and economic participation of people with disability. Currently, a wide range of positive outcomes are being achieved but there are different levels of understanding, capability and capacity across the local government sector about how to increase participation and how the NDIS can support this. In addition, there are limited opportunities to share sector experiences to increase knowledge about social and economic participation of people with disability.

As such, this resource provides a national framework for local governments across Australia which recognises that responses need to be local, needs-based and fit for purpose. The key aim of the resource is to build awareness, understanding and knowledge about how to plan and implement strategies and programs to increase the social and economic participation of people with disability.

The legislative context

Australian and state government legislation and the National Disability Strategy (NDS) aim to ensure that people with disability can access and participate in all aspects of community life. Local government, as the level of government closest to the community, has a significant role in program and policy development, service and infrastructure delivery, and ensuring inclusion and access for people with disability.

There is a growing trend in state and territory legislation to improve the social and economic participation of people with disability. Existing legislation in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia requires local governments to develop plans and implement actions for inclusion and access. In other jurisdictions, some local governments have developed these plans independently.

What local governments currently do

Local governments play an important role to ensure local infrastructure, services and programs are accessible and inclusive and that their workforces reflect the diversity in their communities. The initiatives and activities which local governments undertake to support people with disability include:

  • Providing services directly to people with disability, their families and carers – Local governments play a critical role in providing services and often work in partnership with other organisations to deliver these services.
  • Enabling or facilitating services and access to services and facilities – Local governments enable and facilitate services or access to services and facilities in a range of ways including through the provision of financial assistance and referrals to appropriate services.
  • Advocating for services or support – Local governments play a key role as advocates, including raising awareness across communities and lobbying other levels of government or non-government organisations to establish specific policies, programs or grants.
  • Employing people with disability – Local governments can be a key source of employment for local communities, particularly in regional, rural and remote Australia.
  • Providing accessible services and infrastructure – Local government integrates and embeds inclusiveness and accessibility into planning and development to ensures essential services, footpaths and facilities are accessible and can be used by people with disability.

However, different local government operating contexts, including legislation, their level of remoteness and fiscal environment impact on their role to support people with disability. Critically, local governments in rural and remote Australia face significant issues with funding, low population density, reduced staff capacity and a lack of local service providers. In addition, people living in different communities have different levels of reliance on local government to provide assistance in everyday activities and support them in times of need.

These various contexts mean that local governments need to tailor their planning, resources and actions to increase the social and economic participation of people with disability.

The impact of the NDIS

Over time, the implementation of the NDIS should deliver important benefits. In particular, greater social and economic participation may lead to improved health, employment, education, income, and life satisfaction outcomes for people with disability, their families and carers.

Throughout the NDIS trial period, people with disability consistently identified community participation as one of the top three support needs and a significant proportion of NDIS expenditure is being spent on services which enable and enhance this outcome. Critically, the NDIS COAG Disability Reform Council Quarterly Report June 2015 identified that in the two years prior to June 2015, people with disability spent most of their package on daily tasks and shared living ($110.2 million), and community participation ($74.0 million or 18.7% of total expenditure). This highlights that involvement in the community is very important for people with disability.

Community service providers assist people with disability to engage in everyday community and social activities. This includes going to the shops or seeing friends and family, as well as participating in recreational and leisure experiences such as travel, attendance at events and outings. Greater access to these types of services will enable more people with disability to participate in the community, which may deliver social and economic benefits for localities. This means that local government services and infrastructure, as well as services provided by other organisations and businesses, are vital to support people with disability, their families and carers.

The NDIS is estimated to have a significant positive impact on the Australian economy. It will increase social and economic participation as well as employment opportunities in the disability sector. Economic modelling commissioned by the National Disability Service in 2016 shows that once the NDIS is fully implemented, 25,000 to 40,000 more people with disability will be able to work and 34,000 new jobs for carers (in full-time equivalents) will be supported. Both will increase GDP by between $18bn and $23bn (approximately 1.2% of total GDP). In addition to the benefits associated with employment outcomes for people with disability and their carers, there will be an estimated 85,000 more disability sector jobs created once the NDIS is fully implemented.

What local governments do and can do

The NDIS has the potential to increase income for people with disability and their carers and also increase community expenditure due to their increased participation. It will also generate employment opportunities in the community and disability sectors. All of these outcomes may create local economic growth and social inclusion. These outcomes will not be spread evenly across Australia but local government, as an enabler and advocate for services for the community, has a key and critical role to create local and regional strategies to ensure that communities and businesses harness the benefits of the NDIS.