‘I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m just ready to work.’ Exploring the relationships between the life circumstances of people with psychosocial disability and their engagement with the Australian Disability Employment Services program
AffiliationMelbourne School of Population and Global Health
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Alexandra Elizabeth Fraser Devine
Participation in decent work is recognised as central to supporting individuals, with and without disabilities, to attain socio-economic opportunities, and, health and well-being. Through their ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Australia has committed to supporting people with disabilities realise their right to work. Yet, Australians with disabilities continue to experience significantly poorer employment outcomes when compared to Australians without disabilities. Among those with disabilities, people with psychosocial disability experience some of the lowest levels of employment. Challenging life circumstances, intertwined with vocational and non-vocational barriers to employment, are recognised as both causes and consequences of poorer employment outcomes. The Australian Disability Employment Services (DES) program, is the federal government’s specialised welfare program for people whose disability is assessed as their main barrier to employment. Over recent decades, continual reform has seen the DES program transition from a publicly-funded and delivered program to a quasi-market of government contracted for-profit and non-profit businesses who support and monitor the efforts of people with disabilities in receipt of income support (and a small number of voluntary participants) to actively promote their employability and participation in work. Under the current reforms, implemented in July 2018, DES participants have been given more choice and control to determine which provider they use and to change providers if they are not satisfied. It is assumed that these reforms will incentivise DES providers to be more responsive to participants’ needs, ultimately leading to improved employment outcomes. Drawing on survey data from 369 respondents with disabilities engaged with government funded employment services, and, qualitative interviews conducted at two time points with 30 DES participants with psychosocial disability (total 56 interviews), this thesis explored the perspectives of these participants on how their life circumstances influence and/or are influenced by their engagement with the DES program, in the context of the current reforms. The findings suggest that despite considerable investment and reform, the DES program struggles to address the significant and complex barriers to employment experienced by DES participants with psychosocial disability. Addressing these barriers requires broader social policy investment. Until this is achieved, the effectiveness of the DES program will continue to be undermined.
KeywordsDisability; Psychosocial-disability,; Disability Employment Services; Employment; Mental illness; Mental health; Mental health recovery
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