Ageing and Australian Disability Enterprises
FaHCSIA Occasional Paper No. 27
80 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2010
Date Written: September 10, 2010
Australia is facing an increase in the number of people with disability who are ageing, a trend caused by demographic shifts and advances in medical technology. Like other Australian industries, the ageing of people with disability is becoming evident in the supported employment sector (Australian Disability Enterprises).
This research examined the: • social and economic issues facing the Australian Disability Enterprise industry and supported employees • opportunities and challenges for ageing employees with disability • ability of the current service delivery system to meet the needs of ageing workers. The research also considered the barriers to retirement for people working in Australian Disability Enterprises.
Methodology: The research included a projection of the number of older people in Australian Disability Enterprises in 5, 10 and 15 years based on data from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs’ (FaHCSIA) Online Funding Management System (FOFMS), and semi-structured interviews with workers, carers and stakeholders (n=79). Stakeholders from 31 organisations (26 of which were Australian Disability Enterprises) took part: 16 interviews were conducted and 15 organisations submitted written responses. Interviews were also conducted with 46 people with disability (including 36 who were still working and 10 who were retired) and two carers.
Results: Ageing and Australian Disability Enterprises Workforce: Projections from the current workforce on the FOFMS database indicate that the number of people with disability over 50 years of age working in Australian Disability Enterprises will increase dramatically over the next 15 years, from 21 per cent of the current workforce, to 33 per cent in five years’ time, and close to 50 per cent of the supported employment workforce in 15 years’ time. Most stakeholders interviewed reported that older workers with disability employed in Australian Disability Enterprises are experiencing ageing at an accelerated rate, including memory loss, decreases in cognitive abilities and higher medical needs.
Implications for the Australian Disability Enterprises Sector: The competitive nature of these businesses means that some supported employers feel they have to put pressure on workers to maintain levels of productivity even as ageing diminishes workers’ skills and competencies. This creates a tension between maintaining a competitive edge over other businesses and providing appropriate support to an ageing workforce. Their ability to run supported employment enterprises as competitive businesses is also limited by the fact that the number of funded places for people with disability at each enterprise is capped, which limits the extent to which older people with disability can be replaced with more productive workers with disability. Stakeholders acknowledged that the responsibility for providing additional services to support older people with disability to retire should be shared by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and Australian Disability Enterprises; however, they believed that the Australian Government should assume the lead role.
Retirement from Australian Disability Enterprises: Structural and interpersonal impediments to retiring with dignity emerged from the interviews: the structural impediments depended on the living arrangements of people with disability; the shortage of appropriate services; lack of superannuation and savings for retirement; and the capacity of carers to continue to provide care as they age. The interpersonal impediments to retiring included: a lack of understanding of what retirement involves; a reluctance to leave behind friendships made at work; the meaningfulness people find in work; and an entrenched dependency on the workplace.
Transitions to Retirement Programs: Transition to retirement programs could be implemented across the disability sector to prepare older people for retirement. Successful transition should include: preparing the person with disability and their family for retirement; tailoring the program to suit the needs of the person with disability; providing ongoing services; and showing people with disability examples of activities they can participate in upon retirement.
Services to Support Older People with Disability in Retirement: Services to support older people with disability in retirement are essential if transitions to retirement programs are to be meaningful. Any such programs should provide flexible opportunities to participate in the community according to individual interests. The provision of funded activities is important because most people with disability who retire from supported employment have limited income. It may be useful to utilise a case management or mentoring function to provide people with disability with the opportunity to participate in society in a meaningful way.
Responsibility: Funding activities to support people with disability to retire is complicated due to the separation of disability and aged care services, as well as the split between Australian Government and state and territory areas of responsibility for disability funding. Under the National Disability Agreement, states and territories are required to provide appropriate disability services with the exception of employment services. However, when people with disability face issues associated with early ageing, it is possible that responsibility for service provision should also be shared with the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing, which holds primary responsibility for ageing programs. For these reasons, it is likely that the responsibility for providing pre- and post-retirement programs for people with disability in supported employment will need to be shared across both national and state and territory levels of government.
Conclusion: Given the barriers facing people with disability to retiring from supported employment, sustained and coordinated action is needed to provide them with the option to retire with dignity.
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