ACT News

Policy shake-up urged as jobless rate among disabled increases

ACT disability advocates have called for significant reforms to the employment system, as new data shows workplace participation for those with disabilities has sharply declined in the territory.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed workplace participation in the ACT by those with a disability dropped 8.4 per cent between 2009 and 2012.

The ACT had been well ahead of the national average in the last survey, with a participation rate of 71.4 per cent, compared with 54.3 per cent nationally.

But despite the national workforce participation rate also falling by 2 per cent, the gap had shrunk drastically, with the ACT's participation rate for people with disabilities now at 63 per cent, compared with 52.8 per cent nationally.

The ABS released the new statistics in recognition of the December 3 International Day of People with Disability.

The president of People with Disability Australia, Craig Wallace, said the new figures showed the disability employment system needed urgent attention.

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''These figures really demand a radical rethink of our current approaches to disability employment policy, which means a shake-up of disability employment services,'' he said.

Mr Wallace blamed the fall on declining public service numbers, and said people with disabilities were always the first to go.

He said the number of people with disabilities in the public service had halved between 1986 and 2012 and there was a need for employment targets in the public and private sectors.

''Australia ranks 27 out of 29 in terms of OECD countries for employment of people with disabilities,'' he said. ''When you combine the employment and poverty rankings, Australia is down the bottom.''

The ACT government said it had several policies to help people with disabilities join the workforce, such as a payroll tax break for businesses that employ school leavers with a disability, and the Inclusive Volunteering Program with Volunteering ACT, which allows people with a disability to engage in volunteer placements.

As of June 2013, the Community Services directorate employed 37 people with a disability - 2.8 per cent of the workforce.

ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service chief executive officer Fiona May said the public service should introduce quotas as a way of helping people with disabilities enter the workforce.

''I think quotas like that can go a long way towards improving the profile and understanding of the value of people with disabilities as employees,'' she said, adding that people with disabilities should be given an opportunity to contribute to society like everyone else.

''We were asking them what they hoped to get out of the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], and what came out was that they wanted to work,'' she said.

''People with disabilities want to contribute to the community like the rest of us do, but they're not able to.''

Australian Network on Disability chief executive officer Suzanne Colbert said she was concerned by the new figures.

She said the government needed to work more closely with employers and advocates to help people with disabilities gain the skills they need to enter the workforce and contribute.

''We have made no progress for 10 years, and being in poverty is no place to be,'' she said, ''particularly if you have a disability where your life may be more expensive because of the equipment or support you need.''

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