Discussion paper

People with disability represent a fifth of the Australian population (AIHW 2015), and this proportion is expected to increase with population ageing. With the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) being progressively rolled out across Australia, this is a particularly appropriate time for the Australian urban research agenda to engage with disability in more meaningful ways.

Considered one of the most significant social policy reforms in Australian history, ‘epochal’ (Goggin and Wadiwel 2014) in its scale and transformative potential, the NDIS will directly affect the lives of close to half a million people with a disability as well as their formal and informal support providers. As one of the most urbanised countries in the world, these impacts will be profoundly influenced by the urban contexts in which the NDIS will operate. In turn, Australian cities themselves are likely to change as they adapt to the significant social, economic and political transformations facilitated by the NDIS.

This Issues Paper sets out a research agenda for examining the impacts of the NDIS on Australian cities over the first decade of its full implementation (from 2019 onwards). The impacts of deinstitutionalisation, the last paradigmatic shift in disability policy, are drawn upon to consider possible changes in the lives of individuals, communities and cities in the imminent NDIS era. Since Australian cities of the early 21st century have significantly changed in terms of society, economy, governance and spatial disparities over the past 30 years, we begin to explore how the NDIS reforms might work within rapidly evolving cities. The Issues Paper addresses two primary questions: first, how will outcomes for NDIS participants vary in different urban contexts and domains? And, second, in what ways will the NDIS drive wider change in Australian cities affecting people both with and without disability?

The NDIS was initiated in 2013 to transform an ‘inequitable, underfunded, fragmented, and inefficient’ (Productivity Commission 2011, p. 5) support services system for people with disability in Australia. Annual funding for disability services will increase from a total of $7 billion in 2012-13 (prior to the scheme’s launch) to $22 billion in 2019-20, when the scheme is fully operational nationally. Currently, the majority of disability services are block funded. In contrast, most NDIS funding will be allocated to people with disability as individualised funding. This fundamental shift was designed to facilitate greater choice and control for people with disability, enabling them to purchase their preferred support services in a quasi-market system (as opposed to administrative allocation of services). Promoting independent living and community participation are two of the scheme’s primary objectives (Productivity Commission 2009).

The term people with disability is very broad and used in reference to highly diverse populations. Approximately a fifth of the Australian population (four million people) have a disability. Of these, only 460 000 people are expected to be eligible for individualised NDIS funding. This group (often referred to as NDIS participants) includes people with a significant and ongoing disability, under 65 years old at the time of entering the scheme. The majority, an estimated 70%, of NDIS participants will be people with intellectual disability. In addition, the NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) program will provide grant funding for projects that assist in building personal and community capacity that enhance community inclusion for all Australians with disability (Bonyhady 2016).

In the first part of the paper, we briefly revisit earlier Australian and international studies on deinstitutionalisation. This relatively recent and substantial comparator of a paradigm shift in the disability sector that was researched within its urban contexts in Australia and internationally, provides an explanatory social scientific base and lessons to draw upon. In the second part, we refocus on the NDIS and consider the key areas in which it is likely to facilitate urban change in Australia, including housing, employment, urban renewal initiatives, governance, mainstream services and multiculturalism.

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