The estimated cost to governments of meeting unmet demand for disability support services in Australia is $294 million, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Institute Director Dr Richard Madden said that this compared with around $1.5 billion spent by governments in 1995-96 under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement.
Dr Madden said that the unmet demand figures were conservative: ??Employment services for people with a disability are not included. Neither are children aged under 5, because information on severity of handicap of children this young is not available.
'Also, groups were excluded if there was any doubt about the demand in a subgroup of that group. For instance, some people said that they had not obtained a formal service because they didn't know the services existed - some of this group could well be considered to have unmet demand, but they were not included in the estimates because they had not asked for the service.'
The report, Demand for disability support services in Australia: size, cost and growth, was commissioned by the Commonwealth and the States and Territories to provide information on services funded under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement. The information is intended to help ongoing negotiations surrounding renewal of this Agreement.
The study reports that in 1996 there were an estimated 368,300 Australians (5-64 years) needing ongoing assistance with self-care, mobility or verbal communication.
Of these, 13,400 had an unmet demand for accommodation, support or respite services. Services of this kind reached around 66,700 people in 1995-96.
An additional 12,000 places in day programs were also estimated to be needed. About 65,000 people used day program places in 1995-96.
Dr Madden said that while both figures were of high importance, the day programs demand figure was the more surprising.
'We suspect that this is partly a reflection of the demands placed on families when children with disabilities leave school and are at home full-time because employment may not be a realistic option. Then there are older people with disabilities who are not able to find employment or who are not in the labour force, and so need a daytime activity.'
The report foreshadows a 9.9% increase over the next six years in the number of people aged 5-64 years with disabilities and ongoing support needs. This will increase pressure on services and carers.
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