Job ser­vices for dis­abled.

While the gov­ern­ment claims to of­fer ex­pert em­ploy­ment sup­port to those with a dis­abil­ity or health con­di­tion, the flawed sys­tem is be­ing abused, much to the detri­ment of the job seek­ers’ dig­nity and self-con­fi­dence.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents -

Those of us who love some­one with a dis­abil­ity will not be sur­prised by the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­port show­ing em­ploy­ment rates for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are go­ing back­wards.

What those statis­tics don’t show is the heartache be­hind them. Our son is one of those statis­tics.

Tom is smart, sen­si­tive and has schizophre­nia. By the time he was fi­nally di­ag­nosed, he had dropped out of school and was home­less. Our once-happy fam­ily was shat­tered.

Thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of med­i­ca­tion, coun­selling and love and sup­port from fam­ily and friends, he has been des­per­ately try­ing to get back his life. He wants what oth­ers have: a job and the self-re­spect that comes with hav­ing a job. He wants a chance.

Tom has ap­plied for so many jobs we’ve lost count. Through the Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment, Tom is reg­is­tered with Dis­abil­ity Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices. His agency is sup­posed to help him “find work and keep a job” but mostly he just helps him­self.

He tells us they get gov­ern­ment fund­ing to “pro­vide ex­pert sup­port”. They don’t get fund­ing if he finds a job him­self – this is why they dis­cour­age him from do­ing this and why he ar­gues with them reg­u­larly.

There have been lots of false starts. Dis­abil­ity Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices reg­u­larly sends him for in­ter­views where he finds out that the job is full-time, even though his agency knows the con­di­tions of his dis­abil­ity make full-time work very chal­leng­ing. Tom’s men­tal health is tested with ev­ery re­jec­tion.

After a cou­ple of years of “pro­vid­ing ex­pert sup­port” but no em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, Tom’s em­ploy­ment agency of­fered a po­ten­tial em­ployer fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to em­ploy him.

The wage sub­sidy pro­gram pro­vides em­ployer in­cen­tives of up to $10,000 to en­cour­age busi­nesses to hire, train and re­tain el­i­gi­ble job seek­ers. Em­ploy­ers can ac­cess this wage sub­sidy if they of­fer a job that is ex­pected to be on­go­ing and for an av­er­age of 20 hours a week, over the six months of the agree­ment.

This was Tom’s chance. He started work and was de­ter­mined to show ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing him­self, that he was ca­pa­ble. He could do this.

Over the next few months of work­ing, the com­pany reg­u­larly pro­vided pos­i­tive feed­back to his em­ploy­ment agency. Tom was a great em­ployee; he was friendly, would will­ingly work over­time; was pick­ing up the nec­es­sary skills so quickly that he was put in charge of a small area and didn’t re­quire any su­per­vi­sion. He was even given a cov­eted role us­ing some of the large ma­chin­ery.

Tom’s agency would reg­u­larly call him to sched­ule ap­point­ments dur­ing work times, even though they knew he was by then work­ing full-time and didn’t want to take any time off. He was try­ing to demon­strate to ev­ery­one that he was also re­li­able. This caused lots of dis­tress and the agency fi­nally agreed that Tom could phone after work to meet his obli­ga­tions.

Tom was now just like other peo­ple his age. For the first time he had a job, was mak­ing new friends and had a chance of get­ting his life back. He saved nearly all of his wages, bought a car and even planned a hol­i­day.

Tom spoke to us about want­ing to stay in this job for at least a year, as he had been ap­proached about be­com­ing a su­per­vi­sor in the fu­ture. Tom was so proud of him­self and we were proud of him. Our fam­ily was heal­ing.

When work re­sumed after a pub­lic hol­i­day, Tom turned up half an hour be­fore his shift started be­cause he was so ex­cited to be back. Tom was told by his su­per­vi­sor to go home. He was be­ing let go. Tom kept calm; he asked why and was told that he was a re­ally good worker but his wage sub­sidy fund­ing had run out.

Some of the other em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties were also let go that day for the same rea­son. Tom saw them cry­ing in the car park. Tom came home dev­as­tated. He called Dis­abil­ity Em­ploy­ment

Ser­vices and was told that the com­pany had al­ready called them and asked for “an­other one just like him”.

Over the next few days, Tom called and went in to his em­ploy­ment agency sev­eral times. There must be some sort of mis­take. He re­ally needed their “ex­pert sup­port” now. As each day passed, Tom’s dig­nity and self-con­fi­dence faded. His agency said they were hand­ing over his case to their lawyers, as there were no grounds for his dis­missal. Tom was very anx­ious about this step but was pre­pared to do what­ever it took to get a job – any job.

Now that Tom had some skills and ex­pe­ri­ence and his su­per­vi­sor had agreed to be his ref­eree we all be­lieved he would find an­other job. That was 12 months ago; there has been no out­come, no “ex­pert sup­port” and, most im­por­tantly, no job. Tom is back to be­ing an un­em­ploy­ment statis­tic.

There’s so much re­search show­ing that em­ploy­ment along with the so­cial con­nec­tions that come from work­ing are a ma­jor part of a dis­abled per­son’s re­cov­ery, but part of the rea­son the un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures for peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity are so high is that there’s very lit­tle prac­ti­cal sup­port to them find­ing and keep­ing work.

How can this be when al­most 83 per cent of Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment fund­ing on spe­cial­ist dis­abil­ity ser­vices goes on em­ploy­ment ser­vices? How much of that gov­ern­ment fund­ing is go­ing to com­pa­nies such as the one Tom worked for? Tom, like his co-work­ers, was set up for fail­ure at the tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense.

Maybe the “crack­down” on dis­abil­ity sup­port needs to be redi­rected to­wards com­pa­nies ac­cess­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing and tak­ing ad­van­tage of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Why are th­ese com­pa­nies al­lowed to spit out peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties as soon as their wage sub­sidy fund­ing runs out? Why don’t th­ese com­pa­nies have an obli­ga­tion to re­tain peo­ple if the work is still avail­able and it’s work­ing out?

For so many years Tom had his dig­nity stomped on, but for a very brief time he was hold­ing his head high and dared to dream about a fu­ture with a job. A fu­ture filled with pos­si­bil­i­ties. For a brief time we were a happy fam­ily again.

The im­pact of this job loss had a flow-on ef­fect. It has dam­aged Tom’s men­tal health and well­be­ing.

Tom is now de­pressed and is so em­bar­rassed that he tried to get his life back and failed. He has lost his self­con­fi­dence, is iso­lat­ing him­self from us. Our fam­ily is shat­tered again.

Tom is a strong and fit young man; he re­ally wants to work and wants a chance to do so. There is still time for him to re­build his life and re­gain his dig­nity if he gets real sup­port to get and re­tain a job. He doesn’t want un­em­ploy­ment or dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits; he just wants a chance

• to ful­fil his po­ten­tial.

TOM WANTS WHAT OTH­ERS HAVE: A JOB AND THE SELF-RE­SPECT THAT COMES WITH HAV­ING A JOB. HE WANTS A CHANCE.

ANONY­MOUS The writer of this ar­ti­cle is the mother of a man liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity.

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