A HUNTER-based advocacy service will be unable to help thousands of people with disabilities in regional NSW under funding changes due to come into effect in July, its chief executive says.
Mark Grierson, the head of Disability Advocacy NSW, said the service would have its funding slashed by a third once the state government hands its disability budget to the Commonwealth mid-next year.
Mr Grierson said Disability Advocacy NSW, based in Newcastle, would have to close at least three of its regional offices, and would no longer be able to service areas such as the Upper Hunter under the funding changes.
“It’s not just us, but all the advocacy services in NSW,” he said. “But given we’re the largest provider of regional and rural support in NSW, we’re particularly worried.”
Fairfax Media has previously reported the NSW deal with the federal government to introduce the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) means the state’s disability budget will be redirected to the Commonwealth from July, 2018.
Mr Grierson said the decision to cut advocacy to partially fund the NDIS seemed “incongruous,” given the complexity of the NDIS had increased the demand for their services.
“But the majority of advocacy issues are not related to the NDIS,” Mr Grierson said. “There are many people who don’t use the NDIS who need advocacy support. If you have a discrimination matter, a problem at school or hospital, it’s nothing to do with the NDIS, but we go in to bat for people to make sure they get a fair go.”
Mr Grierson said about a third of their funding – about $760,000 – came from the state government to provide local services in regional and remote areas.
“It is in the thousands of people we won’t be able to help anymore. We are concerned about the people we can’t help, and we don’t want to lose staff and overwhelm the existing ones,” he said.
“Should NSW withdraw its funding on June 30, we have no funding alternatives within the NDIS, as advocacy is not funded by the NDIS and the one-off ILC (Information Linkages and Capacity Building) grants specifically exclude individual advocacy,” he said.
A Family and Community Services spokesperson said the NSW Government had an obligation to ensure its $6.4 billion in disability funding was directed to those in need, while avoiding duplication between the state and federal governments.
“Many of the activities that disability advocacy and information providers are funded for under current arrangements form part of the NDIS, either through ILC supports or an individual’s NDIS plan.”
The Commonwealth was providing $60 million to extend the National Disability Advocacy Program, and other advocacy supports, to June 30, 2020.
“The implementation of the NDIS means there will be more funding available for disability than ever before - $6.4 billion in NSW in 2018/19,” the spokesperson said.
“NSW is continuing to provide funding of $10.6 million to specialist disability advocacy organisations up to June 30, 2018, and support these organisations during the transition to the NDIS. From July 2018 the Federal Government will take full responsibility for the provision of services on behalf of people with disability who have entered the NDIS.
“The NSW Government will continue to fund advocacy and peak groups that support people across the NSW community, including people with disability, to access mainstream services that will continue to be the responsibility of NSW such as health, mental health, housing, and education.”