DES reform disappoints

Tue 31 July 2018

Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia), Inclusion Australia and the Australian Network on Disability (AND) have issued a media release expressing disappointment on the Disability Employment Services (DES) reform. 

DES is a national program designed to help people with disability prepare for, find and keep a job. Following extensive community consultation, changes to the scheme came into effect on 1 July.

Australia’s peak representative body for people with disability, DPO Australia, Inclusion Australia and AND participated in over a year of consultations with the government on the DES reform process. It was hoped that the needs of people with disability and employers would be at the heart of the $800-million-a-year program. Sadly, the reforms don’t make it easier for jobseekers with disability to choose a provider who will best meet their specific needs. Nor do they make it easier for employers to make an informed choice on a DES provider who will consistently meet their needs – especially at a national level.

Government argues that the market will determine which providers are successful. The problem with that approach is that all the risk lies with people with disability and employers.

Whilst acknowledging some of the positive changes, AND CEO Suzanne Colbert AM fears the new scheme will not improve employment outcomes for people with disability or employers who want to hire and retain them.

‘There are some positive aspects of the reforms, such as the increased focus on sustainable jobs, continued funding of workplace adjustments through the Employment Assistance Fund and support for employees to retain their employment through the Work Assist program,’ she said.

‘Sadly, the views of people with disability and employers have been overlooked in these reforms and we fear the new system will make it harder for employers to recruit people with disability.’

Key areas of concern include an excess of providers, the likelihood of high service failure, funding cuts to some of the most disadvantaged people with disability, and a lack of informed choice for people with disability seeking employment.

Too many DES providers knocking on the doors of employers

The reforms should make it easier for employers to recruit people with disability. However, with more providers knocking on their doors, it will be hard to know how to determine quality and who to engage with. Especially in a system that struggles to get the job match right; so far only around one in ten DES participants has secured employment for more than 12 months.

The total number of DES providers has increased from 117 to 137. In Geelong, the number of providers offering DES has increased from six to 15. In some parts of Sydney and Melbourne, there are now as many as 26 different providers.

Funding cuts

The reforms have resulted in some providers who have mainly supported people with autism, intellectual disability, specific learning disability and speech impairment receiving less funding under the model if their caseloads remained the same. While the 2018-19 Federal Budget announced $10M in transition grants as compensation, we worry about the long-term prospects of jobseekers who have these specific disabilities.

Lack of informed choice

The reforms don’t make it easier for jobseekers with disability to choose a provider that is best for them. A lack of performance information and a lack of time after being told they’re eligible for DES will make it harder for them to make an informed choice according to their specific needs.

Further information

Find out more from a Joint Media Release issued by AND, DPO Australia and Inclusion Australia.

We’ll continue to monitor the evidence of whether the DES reforms are making a real difference for people with disability and to improve outcomes for employers.

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