People with disability in Australia have more barriers to a fair go than in almost any other developed country in the world. At the heart of this lies the reality that job prospects for people with disability are dramatically lower than for other people in Australia.

According to the ABS 4102.0 Australian Social Trends, March Quarter 2012 Report, the labour force participation rate for those aged 15-64 years with disability in 2009 was 54%, much lower than that for those without disability (83%). Even the Australian Public Service is guilty of being a poorly performing employer, with the number of employees with disability more than halving over the last 17 years, from 6.6% in 1986 to 3.1% last year.

The most recent OECD ranking placed Australia 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment participation of people with disability. Mexico and the Slovak Republic are outdoing us. Our accumulated short comings mean that 45% of people with disability in Australia live near or below the poverty line. Australia currently ranks 26 out of 27 OECD countries for the percentage of people with disability living in poverty.

The 2011 Deloitte Access Economics report ‘The Economic Benefits of Increasing Employment for People with Disability’ concluded that Australia would increase its Gross Domestic Project (GDP) by $43 billion if employment rates for people with disability were increased only by one third. The report went on to identify this goal as achievable, perhaps even modest, estimating that a 10% increase in the labour market would equate to an increase of between 191,000 and 203,000 jobs for people with disability.

How to increase the employment levels of people with disability is a question in desperate need of innovative thinking. Tying employment and income support for people with disability together at the Federal level maintains the view that the only levers for change are Newstart or the Disability Support Pension (DSP). This model hasn’t created jobs, hasn’t supported employers to create jobs, hasn’t made workplaces more accessible or removed discrimination, hasn’t created more positive employer attitudes and hasn’t equipped people with disability with the skills or resilience to retain their place in the workforce. Not only has this model not worked, it hasn’t even achieved what it was designed to, which was to reduce the number of people in receipt of the DSP.

We need to look beyond the DSP and beyond trying to parachute people into jobs. We need to look at the real structural barriers to employment which include:

Failure to capitalise on States, Territories and Local Government knowledge and innovation: These levels of Government have local contacts and procure from industries that provide many base level jobs. There is far more that States, Territories and local governments could contribute to solving the employment crisis facing people with disability if disability employment was made a national priority through COAG.

A lack of support for people with disability to access education and training: People with disability are still routinely segregated into special education or special classes within mainstream education despite the overwhelming evidence that this results in lower educational outcomes and lower levels of future economic participation.

Attitudinal barriers of employers: Many employers are reticent to hire people with disability due to a lack of disability awareness and the fear of cost implications. In reality, the reasonable accommodation a person with disability may require to perform a role on an equal basis as others may be as simple as flexible working hours or a magnification facility to read a computer screen. Relying on discrimination law to address our unwelcoming workplaces isn’t working fast enough. We need solid benchmarked quantitative national research into employer attitudes towards people with disability to be able to address the crux of this problem. Employers also need evidence that Government is serious and committed.

Low expectations within Disability Employment Services (DES): DES focus on getting people with disability into jobs, not ensuring that those jobs are retained. Applying the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) model of person centred approaches and giving the individual, rather than the DES, the budget to get the supports they need to break into employment would drive innovation and maximise positive outcomes for people with disability. For example, directly paying a provider to write a CV, a potential employer to make a workplace accessible or buying suitable clothes for an interview.

Financial disincentives to employment for people with disability: For many people the cost of disability (such as taxi fares) means that they can actually be worse off as a result of moving from the DSP into employment, especially if moving into casual employment or a low wage position.

Inaccessible transport and workplaces: Some people with disability are marginalised from the workforce solely because buses are inaccessible, train stations don’t always have lifts and workplaces may not have accessible bathrooms.  

The continued segregation and exploitation of people with disability employed in Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE): People with disability working in ADEs earn lower and sub-award wages than people in mainstream employment – unlike their counterparts in open employment they do not receive equal pay for work of equal value or have access to the same industrial protections as other workers. The wage system used in ADEs has recently been ruled discriminatory by the Federal court.

Key recommendations

  • Bipartisan commitment to creating 200,000 jobs for people with disability by 2023.
  • Increasing targets for employing people with disability in public service positions and key signature measures, such as Parliamentary internships to show we are serious.
  • Reporting on the numbers of people employed by private sector and not for profit organisations required in their annual reports.
  • The adoption of an accessible procurement policy by the Government to preference employers that demonstrate best practise in the employment of people with disability.
  • Retention of full DSP for at least six months for people with disability entering the workforce in entry level positions, to provide real incentives and buffers against perverse outcomes due to extra costs.
  • Comprehensive tax offsets for the costs of mainstream supports people with disability may encounter in order to maintain themselves in jobs (for instance the costs of tailored clothing, taxis or maintaining a car).
  • Transition from the Australia Disabilty Enterprises model to genuine work training and skills building opportunities that lead to open mainstream employment for people with disability.
  • Implementation of the National Disability Strategy.

 Get Real on Jobs Word 102kb

It is estimated that 20% of Australians are people with a disability. Yet historically, we have been shut out of civic life, the community and jobs. Hindered by negative attitudes, unimaginative programs, and inaccessible transport, buildings and information, people with disability in Australia have been excluded from ‘a fair go’, and basic human rights.

People with Disability Australia is uniting Australians with disability to call on government, politicians, the media, business and voters to end protracted and systemic marginalisation: to stop the abuse of people with disability and bring an end to institutions; to increase the number of people with disability in jobs and reduce poverty; to provide people with disability the adequate and appropriate supports we need to live lives of our own choosing by building a sustainable, person centred DisablityCare Australia; and to promote, protect and fulfil our human rights.