MANY people with mental illnesses can’t get a job because they’ve slipped through the cracks in a national shake-up of disability employment services.
Don Campbell is a program manager at Intework’s South Lake branch and says his company is being inundated by people with a mental illness trying to get on the books.
Despite this, under a federal government tender they won in November last year, his not-for-profit organisation won’t receive an extra cent in funding for at least five years.
Mr Campbell said a year ago about 40 per cent of his clientele had a mental health issue, but that’s now risen to nearly 75 per cent.
The influx has partly resulted from the demise of WA’s only specialist mental health employment service Ruah Workright, which failed to win a single contract under the Gillard government shake-up.
It wasn’t alone. Of the 13 providers who operated in the federal employment department’s Central West region, eight lost their contracts. They were replaced by six new agencies.
“On November 1 last year, everyone was told who the new agencies would be, which meant that the new companies had to do pre-interviews as well as start up new offices before the contracts started in February,” Mr Campbell told the Herald.
“Some eastern states companies moved in, and one overseas company, and it’s their first time here so they have no structures in place.
“Five months is not a lot of time to get up and running, and some of them are still struggling.”
Mr Campbell claims some of the new companies are profit-driven and not interested in people with a mental illness because they’re more costly to support.
There’s also a lack of trained staff because many left the industry when their former employers lost their contracts.
“I’m hearing that there is a backlog of people trying to get jobs,” he says.
Most of Intework’s clients are referred from health providers, but an increasing number are jumping from other agencies because of dissatisfaction.
“Twenty per cent of our new clients come from other agencies.”
Ruah chief executive Francis Lynch says it’s a problem across the country.
He said the employment department’s assessment criteria, which gave providers a star rating, didn’t take into account the extra effort needed to support people with a mental illness.
As a result, services which specialised in that area were decimated when the new contracts were announced.
“You’d be lucky if there were 20 to 30 per cent left,” Mr Lynch said.
Mr Lynch said he hadn’t heard about previous clients who were now struggling to get into jobs, but would check with staff on the ground. He said if Mr Campbell’s claims were true, it was a terrible situation.
“Work is often fundamental to people’s recovery,” he said.
“It gives them a feeling that they’re part of the community, and that they’re valued. One week of doing something as simple as sweeping a volleyball court can be more beneficial than months of therapy.”
In fact, work is so important that despite losing its contracts, Ruah is restructuring to increase its focus on job support.
Employment participation minister Kate Ellis defended the new system, saying it had received record funding of $3.2 billion to help people with disability get work.
“We removed the cruel caps and quotas that existed under the previous system, allowing 43 per cent more people to access services and helping to double the number of job placements for people with disability,” Ms Ellis told the Herald.
“We have also increased the number of services nationally by 50 per cent, to 1650.
“Putting disability employment services to tender was done to improve outcomes for job seekers by making sure that the best quality providers are delivering services—a jobseeker moving from a 1-star provider to a 5-star provider is twice as likely to get a job and more than five times as likely to have kept that job after six months.
“All tender applications were independently assessed under strict probity arrangements against published criteria, including an assessment of an organisation’s local community links and partnerships.”
by STEVE GRANT