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‘System is broken’: New report finds ‘entrenched’ disability workforce issues with urgent calls for sector reform

National Disability Services logo alongside an illustration of microphones


A new report has found workforce issues have become ‘entrenched’ in the disability sector with urgent calls for sector reform to address these challenges, among others, that the sector is facing. 

The data, released today by the peak body for disability, National Disability Services (NDS), is part of its latest Workforce Census Report and found that the disability sector workforce remains precarious with a continued undersupply and a high turnover rate. 

Not only that, but many providers are suffering through a ‘financial viability crisis’ as a result of inadequate pricing and spiralling costs – made worse by workforce turnover.  

The report estimates that providers are going through a potential invisible cost of more than $80 million from staff turnover alone.  

Concerns are being raised that this could only worsen, as significant wage reforms in parallel industries, such as aged care, are seeing support workers jump ship. 

There are also fears for the low level of Behaviour Support Practitioners in the sector meaning those with complex needs aren’t able to receive the support required in both volume and quality. 

NDS CEO Laurie Leigh says action on sector reforms is urgently needed to address workforce challenges that have become a drag on sector effectiveness. 

“NDS agrees with the government that managing the sustainability of the NDIS is critical — the community expects no less. We need fundamental and systemic reform, and that must be accompanied by proper resourcing for sector transformation.” 

"The system is broken. Training, supervision and retaining highly skilled practitioners to provide quality care is essential, but not adequately covered in the current funding model." 

CEO of Home Care Nurse's Australia Busi Faulkner says it is very lucky if an employee, particularly those in middle management, last longer than three months in the position.  

She says the financial impact on her business in training, onboarding and shuffling staff around is severe and even she, as the director, is covering day-to-day shifts to get by.  

"I'm in the trenches all the time. We are rushed off our feet just to keep our workforce going." 

Other key report findings included: 

  • There is a continuation of previous workforce trends, showing that workforce issues in the disability sector have become entrenched. The disability sector continues to rely heavily on casual disability support workers, who have a very high turnover.  
  • The biggest variation this year was a in proportion of permanent employees who work full time – with the number of full-time employees growing by 10 percent. The highest in close to a decade.  Conversely, part-time employment dropped to 70 per cent this year.  The increase may be related to the current cost-of-living crisis.  
  • Turnover continued the upward trend growing to 24 per cent this year, while permanent staff turnover jumped to 16 per cent, the highest it has been since this survey began. These figures represent a churn of almost 16,500 individual employees leaving their jobs and over 19,000 new appointments over a one-year period. 
  • This year the survey took a closer look at Behaviour Support Practitioners (BSPs). In a service area in which many participants have complex support needs, that require multifaceted, well-developed skill sets, we found that more than half of BSP’s were at Core skill level, the lowest of the four levels of expertise. NDS is concerned that the number of experienced practitioners in the behaviour support workforce is not high enough to provide support at the required volume and quality. 
  • The census confirmed that more needs to be done to attract people with disability to work in the sector, with 3.8 per cent of provider staff being people with disability. The responses shed light on the enablers and the barriers involved, and NDS will use the data to encourage providers to recruit more people with disability into the sector. 
  • There has been a clear improvement in organisations having disability representation on their boards, 37 per cent had at least one person with a disability on their board while 88 per cent had members with lived experience of disability. However, NDS still sees significant work to be done for disability service providers to increase representation of people with disability in the governance of organisations.


Contact information
Andrew Beswick, Director of Communications, 03 8341 4394, submit enquiry/feedback