Or at least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m dealing with government agencies. “It’s their job to put you off.” “They make it so difficult you’ll give up – don’t let them.” “The systems are designed to exclude you, you have to fight for your rights.” But sometimes, it’s just all too hard.
In September or October last year, I applied for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme). When passed by a Labor government in 2013, it was intended to be a one-stop-shop for people with disabilities, enabling them to access services that facilitated their independence and connection with the community. Further, it was intended to be an enabling tool by which those applicants able could tailor their own plan to their specific needs.
Of course, it has been none of those things. For the few who are approved and receive appropriate funding, the NDIS is a great thing. When it works as it should, it can greatly improve the lives of people with disability. When it doesn’t, it is the cause of great stress and despair for those who are rejected or have funding cut.
Currently, I am one of those people. I was rejected in June (a mere 9 months later!) on the basis of permanency. This was not a surprise – I knew I was not an ideal candidate, not having a listed condition, so they would try any trick in the book to deny me scarce funding. But trying to get services to which you are entitled is always an uphill battle, made that much harder by my limited capacity as a chronically ill person.
I have applied for an internal review, sent in supporting documents, contacted an advocacy organisation and my local member’s office. It should surprise no one reading that when I rang NDIS a few weeks after sending my documentation by email, it had been received but not “actioned” (ie, read). They were not allowed to give a time frame for a review. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me for a time frame, the worker chuckled.
This is not new for me. Anyone who has dealt with social welfare in Australia in the past knows the process is brutal and humiliating by design. I offer a wry smile when someone completely new to the system expects to be accepted for a payment automatically. I wonder what they would say if I told them it took 2 years and countless appeals for me to successfully claim disability.
Students are dependant on charities for food while waiting months for their Youth Allowance to be processed, with more than 33 million calls to Centrelink going unanswered between July and January. At the NDIS, plan reviews are taking up to 9 months to be completed, leaving at-risk people with inappropriate or no services in the meanwhile. People with mental illness are routinely being denied access, and the process of application has been described as “soul wrenching” by applicants made to “feel like [they were] just a number and an inconvenience.”
I know all of this. I know there is no room for dignity, nor pride, in this process. You feel like you shouldn’t have to prove yourself in order to get support? So do I, but you swallow that feeling and debase yourself because you have no choice.
Yet still, despite my awareness of the situation, I feel as though I’ve been made a chump of by government bodies. I’ve done the rounds again and again and again, ringing and visiting organisations and speaking to workers who tell me I’m not really eligible for anything they can offer, but have I tried ringing X agency instead? Surely I’d have better luck there.
What can you do when you are denied services, or even an assessment for said services? After you’ve pushed and exhausted all your possibilities and something in the back of your mind says, this isn’t right, but you’re too tired to fight anyway?
So, I change tactics and try something new. I’m still fighting, making calls when I’m too tired to even maintain conversation with my family, researching endlessly about which tack to take, which boxes need to be ticked. Don’t let the bastards get you down, I keep telling myself.
Of course, the bastards are not just the bureaucrats who design such impassable systems, or those workers who take delight in enforcing them. The bastards are those who read the Herald Sun or the Daily Tele, railing against mythical “dole bludgers” while maintaining outrage about the worthy-yet-denied Centrelink applicant in their sob story of the week. The bastards watch A Current Affair, gleefully cheering on the “reporter” who chases down a disability pensioner out for a game of bowls, because disabled people aren’t meant to have fun.
The bastards are those who believe in the deserving and undeserving poor, the good and bad cripple, who have been fed the lie that our systems are choked beyond capacity by non-existent “scammers”, not by those in power who would systematically starve our country of funds for social services so those in need have to scramble for what’s left.
This is why I, and so many others, have been denied vital support services and funding. Not just because those in power wish to crush the social welfare system on which our country supposedly prides itself, but because we let them. I’m fighting for myself, but I can’t let go of the bigger picture, and the real battle.