Precarity and Job Instability on the Frontlines of NDIS Support Work

The national roll-out of the NDIS holds the prospect of a significant enhancement in both the resources allocated to disability services in Australia, and the autonomy and flexibility of service delivery for people with disability. But it also constitutes an enormous logistical and organisational challenge. And the market-based service delivery model built into the NDIS is exacerbating those challenges, by unleashing a widespread fragmentation and casualisation of work in disability services.

In this new report, researchers document the experience of front-line disability service workers under the NDIS based on first-hand qualitative interviews.

The report was a joint initiative of two leading academic researchers (Prof. Donna Baines, formerly of the University of Sydney, and Dr. Fiona Macdonald of RMIT) and the Centre for Future Work. Researchers conducted detailed face-to-face interviews with 19 front-line disability service workers, mostly in the Newcastle, NSW region. (Newcastle was one of the locations chosen for NDIS trials, so workers in the region have more experience with the reality of NDIS delivery problems.)

The interviews indicated 8 major problems negatively affecting the stability, quality and sustainability of work for disability support workers:

  1. The new system is not providing sufficient support for participants with intellectual and other cognitive disabilities, including in designing and managing individual programs of care;
  2. DSWs are experiencing increased instability and precarity in their jobs, elevated levels of mental and physical stress, and irregular hours and incomes;
  3. New workers joining the disability services sector are often less skilled, less trained, less experienced, and sometimes reluctant;
  4. DSWs experience particular challenges working in the private realm of NDIS clients’ homes;
  5. The informal and inconsistent provision of transportation and other necessary functions to NDIS clients results in a significant shift of costs and risks to workers;
  6. DSWs are experiencing increased levels of violence in their work;
  7. Relationships with managers have changed dramatically under the new system, undermining effective supervision, coaching, and training; and
  8. Worker turnover, given the insecurity of work and income and the challenging conditions of work, is extreme.

The deterioration in job stability and working conditions under the NDIS will inevitably impact on the quality of service experienced by NDIS clients; it will also exacerbate the overarching challenge of recruitment and retention facing disability service providers as they try to attract the 80,000 new full-time equivalent workers required to operate the scaled-up NDIS.

The researchers conclude with several policy recommendations to improve the quality and stability of work for disability support workers, and the quality of care for participants.

Full report