Anton Sagrillo lives in supported accommodation in Adelaide with round-the-clock care.
- Australia’s disability support workforce growth is not meeting an increase in demand
- Disability advocates say people with disabilities are often going without access to critical support
- Unpaid carers have warned they need more respite to look after themselves
Even though he cannot eat the food he bakes, he loves to share it with his housemates.
His regular paid disability support workers know he is a whizz in the kitchen, and that he feels happy and safe with them around.
“A good worker supports me, keeps me safe, listens carefully and understands … my needs,” Anton said.
“I need somebody to listen to me and be reliable, respectful to me, my home and my choices.”
But he is also aware of the fact that there are employment gaps in the sector he relies on.
“[The] agency [doesn’t] understand my routine.”
Australia’s disability support workforce needs to double over the next three years to keep up with demand — but not enough people are joining the sector, leaving care recipients without access to critical support.
While the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was predicted to be one of the largest job creation initiatives in Australia’s history, there are currently thousands of disability support vacancies.
Anton Sagrillo’s carer Monish Gambhir, who made the switch after working as a general practitioner for 15 years, said the move had been a rewarding one.
“If the right support and care can be given, it really changes their life.
“We need a lot of fresh ideas and enthusiastic people coming into the industry.”
‘Lack of training and confidence’
Maggie Rutjens, from the Disability Advocacy and Complaints Service of South Australia (DACSSA), said it was not uncommon for people with a disability to go without access to support because shifts could not be filled.
“There are a lot of transferrable skills that can come from disciplines like social work, nursing and even teaching,” she said.
“But disability support work requires a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge to really safeguard people with disability … and that requires support.”
A focus on increasing the quantity of the workforce has sometimes come at the expense of quality, Ms Rutjens said.
Complaints to DACSSA have nearly doubled in the past two years and the complexity of those complaints has also increased.
She wants people with disabilities to be able to raise concerns and ideas to improve their standard of care without feeling victimised.
But she said disability support workers also needed more avenues to complain about issues within their workplace.
“Part of that involves supporting disability support workers to know the rights of people with disability, and to stand up for the rights of people with disability, [and] to stand up for their own working conditions and to advocate for the training that they need,” she said.
“It takes a lot to be a really effective and a great disability support worker and that is what people with disability deserve.
“That means making sure that those people are able to complain as well when they see an issue arise in their workplace.”
Unpaid carers desperate for respite
Unpaid carers have concerns of their own, with some warnings of a looming “fatigue crisis” if better access to respite care and financial support is not forthcoming.
Judi Bemmer left her government job a year ago to become a full-time carer to her mother, Gill, after she had a stroke and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease seven years earlier.
“It wasn’t even a choice — she was always going to come home to me and I’d look after her, because she’d do the same for me,” Judi said.
“The reality is that bringing in paid carers is expensive.
“[Caring] is all-consuming, it’s every aspect of your existence.”
Ms Bemmer has not had any formal respite for about two years.
She is one of an estimated 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia who together provide 1.9 billion hours of unpaid care each year — often at the cost of their own health and wellbeing.
Last year, Ms Bemmer thought she was having a heart attack and called an ambulance.
Despite clinicians wanting to admit her to hospital, there were no spare beds in emergency respite care.
Ms Bemmer said she had to discharge herself early from hospital so she could return home and care for her mother.
“Thankfully it wasn’t my heart but if it had been, I don’t know what we would have done,” she said.
“It is an enormous contribution that unpaid carers are making and they’re doing it for the smallest pension.
“It is almost impossible to survive on the size of the pension that is provided to carers. It’s unfair, it’s untenable and it needs to be addressed.”