Mental Health In The 2016-17 Federal Budget

5 May 2016

Not unexpectedly, the Federal Budget did not offer a great deal in the way of mental health initiatives and developments.

However, while there are some small gains, there are some significant implications for support for vulnerable people on low incomes and people with disabilities and mental illness, and for continued uncertainty of funding arrangements.

On the positive side:

  • Perinatal Depression Online Support

The Government has announced $0.8 million over two years from 2015-16 to develop online support resources for women who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, perinatal depression. However, the cost of this measure and for the ongoing management of the online support tools will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Health, and does not restore funding for perinatal depression services recently withdrawn from Commonwealth/state agreements.

  • Veteran suicide awareness and prevention program

The Government will provide $1 million over four years from 2016-17 to continue the Operation Life suicide awareness and prevention workshops for the veteran community. These workshops increase awareness of suicide risk and the importance of early intervention, with the aim of preventing suicide amongst veterans.

  • Improved access to mental health treatment for current and former members of the Australian Defence Force and Support services for children of veterans

The Government will provide $37.9 million over four years from 2016-17 to extend access to certain mental health services on a non-liability basis to all current and former permanent Australian Defence Force (ADF) members irrespective of their date, duration or type of service. Eligible services will include treatment for post-traumatic stress and depressive disorders. Current and former ADF members, including victims of abuse in the ADF, will be able to apply for treatment without needing to obtain a formal diagnosis beforehand.

In addition the Government will provide $2.1 million over two years from 2016-17 to the Australian Kookaburra Kids Foundation to provide services to the children of current and former ADF members who have been affected by mental illness.

  • Commitment to the NDIS

Commentators have welcomed the Turnbull Government’s commitment to the funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), with the establishment of a NDIS Savings Fund Special Account to assist in meeting the future costs of the NDIS. In the 2016-17 Budget, the Government will credit $2.1 billion to the fund, comprising:

  • Funding of $711.2 million over five years, reflecting reduced net costs in NDIS transition agreements which have been signed with the states and territories; and
  • Savings totalling $1.3 billion over five years which are the net proceeds of more efficiently targeting social welfare expenditure, after offsetting a range of new priorities in the Social Services Portfolio.

However, there are some concerns about this, and the fact that any additional funds appear to be sourced from savings in other areas such as the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

The areas of concern include:

  • More reviews of people on Disability Support Pension

Over the next three years, up to 90,000 current DSP recipients will have their eligibility reviewed to assess their capacity to work. This measure will be targeted at those considered to be a high risk of not being eligible for the payment. The Government expects to save $62.1 million over five years.

These reviews are likely to disproportionately impact people with mental health conditions. It is estimated that around 60% of people who lost access to DSP under the previously announced 'under 35s' measure were on the DSP because of a mental health condition.

The Victorian Government has expressed concern that 30,000 people with disabilities over the next three years will have their disability payments cut and their capacity to work reassessed, with the Commonwealth providing no support or incentives for businesses to create meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Minister Foley has also condemned the axing of an information campaign on the NDIS for people with disabilities. 

Comments from the Victorian Minister for Mental Health are available here.

  • The expiry of the National Partnership on Supporting Mental Health Reform

An issue that has the potential for considerable impact and continuing uncertainty is the expiry of the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Supporting Mental Health Reform. This NPA was signed under the Gillard government, and expires on 30 June this year. While the Commonwealth appears never to have intended to renew the NPA, there are concerns that this may lead to service cuts as early as 1 July this year. 

The funding in Victoria this financial year was approximately $7.6m. The affected programs are:

Breaking the cycle: Reducing homelessness   $12.2 m over 5 years

Assertive mental health outreach support, care coordination/case management for people experiencing entrenched homelessness as a result of severe and enduring mental illness and co-morbid conditions. 

Mental health support for secure tenancies   $9.9 m over 5 years

Provide scaled flexible mental health outreach support linked to identified local housing opportunities for adults aged 16-64 with severe mental illness who are at high risk of homelessness.

Psychiatric Assessment and Planning Units   $6 m over 5 years

Capital funding for three, four-bed short stay Psychiatric Assessment and Planning units, designed for people experiencing an acute episode of mental illness who require extended assessment, monitoring and short term treatment to prevent admission to an acute mental health in-patient bed.

Mental Health Hospital Admission Risk Program (MH-HARP) pilot   $9.3 m over 5 years

Trial of a new model to reduce preventable emergency department presentations. Three teams operating from three sites with a focus on building the individual's capacity to self manage their mental health condition, short term service coordination and improving local service responses.                        

Drought affected communities

We also understand that the additional funds provided last year for mental health services in drought affected communities has not been renewed.


VICSERV will continue to monitor any further information and announcements, and liaise with national colleagues to ascertain the implications of the Federal Budget for mental health services, consumers and families.
 

Further responses and comments on the 2016-17 Federal Budget are available from:

Anglicare Australia - “This year’s Budget is lightweight, with next to nothing on what we see as the vital issues – affordable housing, secure work and adequate income,” Anglicare Australia Executive Director, Kasy Chambers said today. “No homes for the homeless, only tinkering to taxation and the benefits are still mostly for the big end of town."

Mental Health Australia - Tonight’s Budget includes a number of welcome new initiatives for mental health, but leaves ongoing uncertainty about how current reforms will be coordinated and integrated.

“Following tonight’s Budget, Australia still has no comprehensive plan to guide the very significant reforms changing the shape of mental health services,” said Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan.

9news - 'Social services groups have slammed "unconscionable" cuts to unemployment payments under federal budget changes affecting new welfare recipients.'

 
2015-16 Federal Budget