Jul 10, 2024

NDIS: Sex Work Exclusion Sparks Uproar Among Disability Advocates

NDIS: Sex Work Exclusion Sparks Uproar Among Disability Advocates
Disability organisations have criticised NDIS Minister Bill Shorten’s commitment to remove funding for sex work from the program. [CoPilot].

Disability advocates are strongly opposing proposals to exclude sex work from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), arguing that individuals with disabilities deserve access to comprehensive sexual support services.

Disability organisations have criticised NDIS Minister Bill Shorten’s commitment to remove funding for sex work from the program, stating that such a move undermines the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities.

Minister Shorten’s remarks have been met with significant backlash from ten disability organisations, including People with Disability Australia and Touching Base. In a unified statement, these groups emphasised the importance of sexual supports in ensuring the autonomy and holistic health of individuals with disabilities.

They argue that excluding these services from the NDIS impedes the right to make informed decisions about one’s own body, sexual health, and intimate relationships.

The organisations highlighted that people with disabilities frequently face stereotypes that cast them as either asexual or hypersexual, further restricting their autonomy. “Our right to make informed choices about our bodies, sexual and reproductive health, and intimate relationships must be upheld,” they asserted.

In a 2020 ruling, the Federal Court determined that the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) should approve specialised sexual services, which have since been available to NDIS participants.

These services are designed to help individuals with disabilities build positive relationships with their bodies, foster confidence in sexual and intimate contexts, and provide safe environments for self-expression and pleasure.

The services encompass a broad range of supports, including consent education, therapies for sexual abuse and trauma recovery, gender-affirming care, and reproductive resources.

However, Minister Shorten’s recent comments reflect a narrow interpretation of NDIS supports, one that disability organisations say fails to meet the critical needs of many individuals with disabilities.

The groups are calling for Shorten to retract his statements and collaborate with the disability community to develop a comprehensive sexuality policy that respects and supports their rights and needs.

Financial Sustainability of NDIS Sparks Sex Work Debate

The discussion on the financial sustainability of the NDIS has shifted focus to the issue of sex work, following Minister Bill Shorten’s vow to eliminate its funding from the scheme.

As the federal budget projects a significant increase in NDIS costs—from $44.3 billion in 2024 to over $90 billion by the decade’s end—the Albanese government is seeking to ensure the program’s financial viability.

Shorten is advocating for Senate support of a bill aimed at addressing “plan inflation,” where participants request more funding for supports than initially budgeted. The bill also seeks to clarify which items and supports can be funded.

To underscore the need for this overhaul, Shorten recently highlighted a list of unusual goods and services, including sex work, that the government aims to exclude from NDIS funding.

In an interview with Sky News, Shorten reiterated his position, “We will rule it out. It’s just not a sustainable proposition; it doesn’t pass the test.” Despite acknowledging that there have been very few instances of such claims, Shorten maintains that the exclusion is necessary for the scheme’s financial health.

The legality of using NDIS funds for sex work was established by a 2020 Federal Court ruling, which found that such services met the “reasonable and necessary” criteria for a woman with multiple sclerosis.

This ruling clarified that the NDIS Act does not explicitly prohibit funding for sexual services, a decision that the former Coalition government had opposed.

Data on the prevalence and cost of sex work claims under the NDIS is scarce. Shorten noted that, in the 12 months leading to April, there were 228 requests for sexual activity support, none of which were approved.

He emphasized that the issue is not about denying reasonable and necessary supports but ensuring the sustainability of the NDIS. Shorten suggested that individuals could use other funds, such as their disability support pension, for these services.

Advocates and researchers argue that the number of people using NDIS funds for sex work is minimal, making it a negligible cost relative to other services. Rachel Wotton, a sex worker and academic, noted that only a few participants in her research had used NDIS funding for sex work, with some no longer requiring the services.

The opposition and the Greens have called for further scrutiny of the proposed reforms, delaying the bill’s passage by at least eight weeks. Opposition finance spokesperson Jane Hume indicated that while the Coalition may support the NDIS reforms, additional examination is necessary.

Disability advocates continue to push for a policy that recognises and supports the diverse needs of people with disabilities, including access to sexual services, as part of their right to full and meaningful participation in life.

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  1. It is disgusting that in the first instance that taxpayer money was used to fund any type of sex work for the needs of disabled people. Taxpayer’s money is scarce and sacred. Hands off my money. How much are we expected to cover? That’s a luxury. NDIS money should NOT be used for luxuries but for necessities.


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