Disability Employment 

Image: Australian National Audit Office, Management of Agreements for Disability Employment Services

A major disability-led advocacy group says the only way to ensure positive change in the Disability Employment Service is by extending current contracts. 

One of the country’s leading disability-led advocacy and rights groups has called on the Federal Government to extend the current Disability Employment Services program for 12 months. That’s not because the current program is doing so well, but rather to ensure the current review leads to meaningful change.

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) believes an extension would allow adequate time to assess what is currently being offered at system and program level because major reform is needed.

The need for an extension was raised in PWDA’s submission to the DES review that’s currently underway. The DES is due to expire at the end of the 2023 financial year.

PWDA argues time needs to be taken to ensure that what comes next does more to support job seekers with disability and integrates other support programs in a meaningful and successful way.

Giancarlo de Vera, Senior Manager of Policy, People with Disability Australia, says greater improvements in the system are essential and the link between education, poverty, and employment must be investigated.

PWDA’s Giancarlo de Vera, from his blog Dew of Little Things

Australia doing poorly for disability employment

Employment rates for people with disability are extremely poor and Australia lags international peers.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 53% of people with disability have a job, compared to 84% for the general working population.

Australia is ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment participation for people with disability.

“Only 1 in 2 people have a job. That needs to be examined” Giancarlo de Vera says.

Poverty makes finding a job even harder for people with disability.

“The poorer you are the longer you are likely to be unemployed and the longer you are likely to be unemployed down the track. It is startling to see people with disability have the second-highest rate of relative risk of poverty in the OECD.”

The current DES program is being examined ahead of its conclusion. The DES was remade in 2018 with Grant Agreements in place until June 2023. The DES is overseen by the Department of Social Services.

It uses a market-based approach to deliver employment outcomes for people with disability, chronic illnesses, and injury.

A 2020 mid-term review by Boston Consulting found, despite 2018 reforms, the system lacked supporting infrastructure (including lack of mechanisms for participants to assess provider quality) and misaligned provider incentive structures.

Canberra HQ, Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting cites a need for change.

“Participants and employers provide negative feedback on several aspects of service quality, including that providers lack specialist skills and professionalism” Boston Consulting reported.

“Stakeholders believe DES program processes, information, and incentive structures are not transparent. Providers and participants express confusion around features of program design, from star ratings to risk-adjusted funding tool updates.”

Boston consulting reported poor alignment with adjacent programs.

“Inconsistencies in incentive structures of DES and the aligned ‘jobactive’ program have contributed to the growth in DES program participant numbers. Poor integration with the NDIS also causes confusion for participants and employers.”

Recent figures indicate 310,000 people use DES via 100-plus service providers.

Giancarlo de Vera says employment services should not be seen as a stand-alone service but as a support that works with other programs including education services, training, and the NDIS.

Education and training are key if employment outcomes for people with disability are to improve.

“The problem with employment starts with the problem of inaccessible education.”

“If we can’t get educated then our ability to access further training and job opportunities is heavily impacted.”

“Key to ensuring the economic participation of people with disability is to prevent us falling behind by ensuring we get the education we deserve in the first place,” Giancarlo de Vera says.

– By a Staff Correspondent

Key Takeaway: 

PWDA says that the NDIS has not adequately considered how it can support people into work and to stay in work. 

In its submission PWDA is calling for:

  • 12-month extensions of the current Disability Employment Service.
  • Further analysis of how the DES system interacts with other systems such as education and training, social security, and the NDIS. The goal is to ensure the DES program is one element of a greater web of support.
  • Abolition of TAFE and similar fees for people with disability to support increase training opportunities and numbers.


Disability Employment Services | Department of Social Services, Australian Government (dss.gov.au) Mid-term Review of the Disability Employment Services (DES) Program |

Department of Social Services, Australian Government (dss.gov.au)

People with Disability Australia – A Voice of our Own (pwd.org.au)

Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

One thought on “Disability Employment 

  1. […] That’s not the full story, though. Huge challenges remain. The implementation of the NDIS hasn’t been smooth and there are added complex problems entering the frame with changes to supported disability employment (as highlighted yesterday). […]

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