Call for fair go for those with disabilities

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

MY youngest brother is intellectually disabled with autism, and has lived in government accommodation for nearly 20 years.

He is a much loved member of our family.

During the past 20 years many people with disabilities living in government accommodation in Victoria have funded their own living costs, including rental, housekeeping and varied personal expenses via an internal Department of Human Services (DHS) system.

Other remaining costs have been paid by the resident from their remaining DSP or other income, often subsidised by family members.

This system has worked well and is calculated as much as possible on an ‘actual’ cost basis, customised not generalised, to the needs of the resident.

It has enabled people with disabilities living in government homes to enjoy a reasonable quality of life with dignity, paying their own living costs including activities and community involvement.

Importantly, it has provided financial transparency and accountability for all parties – in line with the Disability Act 2006.

However, in May this year, the Hon Mary Wooldridge, Minister for Disability and Reform, announced the intention to replace the above mentioned residential fee structure with a new board and lodging fee model, that is, 75 per cent of the resident’s Centrelink Disability Support Pension (DSP) and 100 per cent of their Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) – a similar mode of funding for people who live in aged care facilities, just a different factor percentage.

This was to be implemented on December 1, and the reason given was for residents’ fees in Victoria to be consistent with the other states, for the roll out of the NDIS (DisabilityCare).

People with disabilities and their administrators were advised these residential increases would fund other people with disabilities waiting to enter the disability sector “to take from the vulnerable to give to the vulnerable”.

The proposed increases would have resulted in a more than 50 per cent board and lodging increase for most residents living in DHS group homes, leaving about $100 per week or less from residents’ DSP to fund their ongoing day services fees, medical expenses including specialists fees, allied services, dental, clothing, pharmaceutical, VCAT and State Trustees fees and community activities – not allowing for any other incidentals.

These proposed increases would have seriously diminished our loved ones’ quality of life and provided no transparency or accountability on the part of DHS.

The minister offered residents and administrators an “undue financial hardship” option, for those who would experience financial hardship, the final decision to be made by the department.

This intention has been a source of deep concern for many Victorians, not only those with disabilities and their families.

Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID) have supported many of the residents and their families through this time of uncertainty.

Villamanta Disability Legal Rights Service provided representation to more than 2000 litigants in a challenge to VCAT, which recently ruled that it (VCAT) has a jurisdiction to deal with the matter.

On September 6 on ABC Radio, Mary Wooldridge withdrew the state government’s intention of the proposed residential fee increases “for the time being”.

DHS has formally withdrawn the notice of increase.

I, like many others, welcome this announcement and it is our sincere hope that the government will engage in full and proper consultation with the disability sector.

I wish to sincerely thank The following quote from VALID’s executive officer Kevin Stone and Villamanta’s principal solicitor and executive officer Deidre Griffiths resonates our family’s thoughts and I’m sure many others with family members with disabilities.

“With the establishment of DisabilityCare there are many issues which need to be addressed regarding fees and charges generally, and any decision to alter current arrangements should only be made in the context of an over-arching national policy framework that is fair, consistent and equitable for all residents of disability funded accommodation services.

“The levels of poverty for people living on a Disability Support Pension is a major disgrace, one which DisabilityCare should be looking to alleviate, not standardise.”