NDIS participant employment rate
remained stable throughout the pandemic (22% for those aged 15 and over)
30% of adults
with disability who had a job had regularly worked from home in June 2021 (39% without disability)
59% of employed adults
with disability had not worked from home in the previous 4 weeks (51% without disability) (June 2021)
The data used in this section are largely from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. This survey was designed to provide a quick snapshot of the changing social and economic situation for Australian households with particular focus on how they were faring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey was initially conducted between April 2020 and June 2021. From 1 April to 10 July 2020, the survey was conducted fortnightly with the same panel of respondents. From August 2020, the survey was conducted monthly with a new panel. Panel members have rotated, with new members added in November 2020 and March 2021. At the time of writing, the June 2021 survey was the last in the series; the survey was subsequently reinstated for 3 months from February to April 2022.
Each cycle of the survey collected information on different topics. Some topics have been repeated in both fortnightly and monthly surveys. The topics included:
self-assessed physical and mental health
emotional and mental wellbeing
use of health services (including telehealth)
job situation (including access to leave, job search and working from home arrangements)
training and development of skills
household finances (including income, saving, spending and financial stress)
receipt of government assistance payments and supports
care and assistance provided to vulnerable people inside and outside of household
caring for children and child care and schooling arrangements during COVID-19
social contacts and participation in activities
personal and household stressors
COVID-19 vaccination attitudes and experiences
behaviours around COVID-19 testing
precautions taken due to COVID-19
life after COVID-19.
Disability status was captured in the survey using a subset of questions from the ABS Short Disability Module. While this module provides useful information about the characteristics of people with disability relative to those without, it is not recommended for use in measuring disability prevalence.
In the survey, a person is considered to have disability if they have one or more conditions (including long-term health conditions) which have lasted, or are likely to last, for at least 6 months and restrict everyday activities.
The survey collected data from people aged 18 and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas). It did not include people living in institutional settings, such as aged care facilities.
Due to constant and rapid changes in the COVID-19 situation, the numbers reported in this section should be viewed in the context of the situation at the time of data collection. Therefore, throughout this section, references are made to the month in which the data were collected. A brief timeline of COVID-19 in Australia between January 2020 and October 2021 is provided below for reference.
New daily COVID-19 cases in Australia between January 2020 and October 2021
Source: COVID-19 in Australia
- first case of COVID-19 in Australia reported on 25 January 2020
- new cases among international arrivals only
- public health measures comprised blocking international arrivals from some countries.
March–April 2020 – first wave
- first cases of community transmission of the virus (2 March); the number of daily new cases grew sharply from the beginning of March, reached a peak of 464 on 28 March, and then started falling to fewer than 20 cases a day by the end of April
- Australian borders closed to all non-residents on 20 March; from 27 March, returning residents were required to spend 2 weeks in supervised quarantine hotels
- introduction of border control measures for some states and territories
- introduction of physical distancing rules (21 March), and restrictions on non-essential gatherings and services (such as pubs, gyms and cinemas) (22 March)
- announcement of first (12 March) and second (22 March) economic stimulus packages; a safety net package for mental health, telehealth and domestic violence services, and emergency food relief (29 March); JobKeeper payment (30 March) and free child care for working parents (2 April).
May–June 2020 – gradual easing of restrictions
- continuing international border closures; continuing state and territory border control measures for some jurisdictions; slight easing of restrictions in some states and territories (from 1–12 May)
- The National Cabinet’s three-stage plan to begin easing restrictions (8 May)
- Stage 1: allowing gatherings of up to 10 people, up to 5 visitors in the family home, and some local and regional travel
- Stage 2: expansion of stage 1, with gatherings of up to 20 people, and more businesses reopening, including gyms, beauty services and entertainment venues
- Stage 3: the ‘new normal’ – transition to COVID-safe ways of living and working, with gatherings of up to 100 people permitted
- average daily case numbers around 15 throughout May, fewer than 10 in the first half of June
- all jurisdictions in stage 2 and some in stage 3 during June.
July–October 2020 – second wave
- restrictions reinstated in regions of Victoria from 1 July due to new COVID-19 clusters
- second wave largely localised to Melbourne and much more widespread and deadlier than the first (at its peak, Victoria had more than 7,000 active cases).
- the wave ended with zero new cases being recorded on 26 October 2020.
November 2020–June 2021
- cluster outbreaks in late 2020 and mid-2021, with several brief snap lockdowns in certain states to contain the spread.
July–October 2021 – third wave
- an outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant during June 2021 in New South Wales caused lockdowns for almost half of Australia's population and most major cities from early July 2021
- the outbreak continued to worsen to new record daily cases into August. In late August to mid-September 2021 Victoria had its first 9 deaths since late October 2020.
A National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) report on NDIS participant and family/carer outcomes during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic (up to 30 June 2020) showed that COVID-19 had a mixed impact on employment (NDIA 2020).
NDIS Outcomes Framework Survey
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) regularly collects information on how participants, their families and carers are progressing in different areas of their lives, as part of the Long Form Outcomes Framework survey.
A new cohort of participants is added to the survey every year. Selected NDIS participants are invited to take part in the baseline survey at Scheme entry; those who agree to participate are contacted annually for a follow-up interview. Families and carers of participants are also interviewed (NDIA 2020b).
The survey adopts a lifespan approach, with 4 respondent groups based on participant age: birth to before school, from starting school to 14 years of age, 15–24 years, and 25 years and over. Questions asked of participants and their families and carers differ based on the participant’s age group (NDIA 2020b).
The survey design allows 2 types of comparisons of outcomes for participants and their families and carers over time:
- comparison of baseline outcomes for cohorts of participants who had entered the Scheme in different years (baseline comparison)
- comparison of baseline outcomes with later outcomes observed for the same participants (longitudinal comparison) (NDIA 2020b).
In particular, it is possible to compare the results collected before 23 March 2020 (when the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced) with those collected after that date.
Comparing the outcomes for families and carers of participants aged 0–14 whose NDIS entry was after the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions (23 March 2020) with those whose entry was before that date:
- families and carers of participants who had entered the scheme during COVID-19 were less likely to report having a paid job at the entry date than those who entered the scheme before COVID-19 restrictions
- at the same time, of those in a paid job, higher proportions of responding families who had entered the scheme during COVID-19 reported working 15 or more hours per week
- similarly, more families and carers said they (or their partner) were able to work as much as they wanted
- of those unable to work as much as they wanted, families and carers of participants who entered the scheme during COVID-19 were more likely to give the availability of jobs as a barrier to working more, and less likely to say the child’s situation was a barrier (NDIA 2020).
For families and carers of participants aged 0–14 who had been observed in the scheme at 2 time points (before and after introduction of COVID-19 restrictions), there was some reduction in the likelihood of having a paid job or of working 15 or more hours per week post-COVID (NDIA 2020).
For families and carers of participants aged 15 and over, no significant changes in employment were observed before and after introduction of COVID-19 restrictions (NDIA 2020, 2021):
- at 30 June 2021, the employment rates for families/carers of participants aged 0–14 increased from 46% at baseline to 50% at latest plan
- for families/carers of participants aged 15 or over, employment rates remained at 44% (NDIA 2021).
For the NDIS participants aged 15 years or over who had been in the scheme for at least 2 years, the latest employment rates as at 30 June 2021 remained the same as they were at scheme entry:
- 22% of NDIS participants aged 15 or over were employed as at 30 June 2021, the same as at scheme entry (before 30 June 2019)
- for those aged 15–24, employment rates went from 12% at scheme entry to 21% at the time of the latest plan (NDIA 2021).
In March–April 2020, an online survey by CYDA designed to capture the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people with disability and their families found that 21% of respondents were unable to work in their usual employment (Dickinson and Yates 2020).
CYDA COVID-19 survey
Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), a national representative organisation for children and young people (aged 0–25) with disability, ran an online survey between 16 March and 23 April 2020 about the experiences of children and young people with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was promoted among CYDA members (more than 5,000 people) and via social media by other disability advocacy organisations. Respondents self-selected to participate.
Of 697 people who responded to the survey:
- 93% were a family member of a child or young person with disability, 6% were a person with disability aged over 25, 4% were a young person with disability, 3% were 'other' (for example, speech pathologist) (respondents could belong to more than one category)
- The majority of responses were for young people aged 7–18
- 43% of the young people were enrolled in a mainstream school, 30% in a special school
- 95% of the young people lived at home with family
- Almost 9 in 10 (88%) had a current NDIS plan (Dickinson and Yates 2020).
The ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey showed that between November 2020 and June 2021:
- proportions of adults (aged 18 and over) with disability who had a job remained relatively constant, ranging between 40% and 46%
- adults with disability were less likely to have a job than adults without disability, whose employment rates varied between 73% and 76% (ABS 2020a, 2020c, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c, 2021d, 2021e, 2021f).
The proportions of people who had a job were similar to the 2018 rates reported in the ‘Employment’ section of this report (48% for people aged 15–64 with disability and 80% for those without disability (ABS 2019), however these are not directly comparable due to differences in age and the collection methodology (ABS 2020b)).
From November 2020 to June 2021, between 8.5% and 16% of adults with disability reported each month that their job situation had changed in the month prior to the interview:
- The highest proportions reporting changes in their job situation were in November 2020 (16% of adults with disability) and April 2021 (14% of adults with disability).
- Between a quarter and a half of people with disability whose job situation had changed in the previous month attributed the change to COVID-19.
- Among adults without disability, between 9.1% and 15% reported that their job had changed in the last month (ABS 2020a, 2020c, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c, 2021d, 2021e, 2021f).
 Job situation changes included working more or fewer paid hours, no longer working paid hours, finding a new job, or losing a job. In most cases, job changes were an adjustment to the working hours.
COVID-19 restrictions meant that, for many employees, working from home arrangements had become the norm from March 2020. Between December 2020 and June 2021, the reported frequency of working from home was similar for employed people with disability and those without disability (ABS 2021a, 2021b, 2021c, 2021d, 2021e, 2021f). For example, in June 2021:
- 30% of adults with disability who had a job and 39% of those without disability reported working from home regularly (once a week or more often in the previous 4 weeks)
- just over half of employed adults (59% of those with disability and 51% without disability) had never worked from home or had not worked from home in the previous 4 weeks (ABS 2021f).
For those who usually worked from home in their job or business, the main reason for people both with and without disability was restrictions due to COVID-19:
- 16% of employed adults with disability (or about 4 in 10 employed adults with disability who were usually working from home) named COVID-19 restrictions as the main reason for working from home.
- In comparison, 11% of employed adults without disability named COVID-19 restrictions as the main reason (about a quarter of those usually working from home) (ABS 2021b).
The preferences for working from home were generally similar for employed adults with and without disability:
- 45% of people with disability and 58% of people without disability preferred to work from home more or about the same
- 32% of people with disability and 26% of people without disability said that their type of work could not be done from home
- 22% of people with disability and 16% of people without disability preferred to work from home less or not at all (ABS 2021b).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2019) Microdata: disability, ageing and carers, Australia, 2018, ABS cat. no. 4430.0.30.002, ABS, AIHW analysis of TableBuilder data, accessed 13 October 2020.
ABS (2020a) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, November 2020, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2020b) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey methodology, November 2020, ABS, accessed 20 January 2022.
ABS (2020c) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, December 2020, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021a) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, January 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021b) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, February 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021c) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, March 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021d) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, April 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021e) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, May 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021f) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, June 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
Dickinson H and Yates S (2020) More than isolated: The experience of children and young people with disability and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, report prepared for Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), CYDA, Melbourne, accessed 21 January 2022.
NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) (2020) Participant and family/carer outcomes: COVID-19 impact, NDIA, accessed 20 January 2022.
NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) (2021) NDIS quarterly report to disability ministers for Q4 of Y8, 30 June 2021, NDIA, accessed 10 May 2022.