Minister scraps scheme for funding sex services for disabled people, citing taxpayer opposition

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Jul 11, 2024 at 01:05 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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Disability rights advocates are outraged after it was announced that sex work would be banned from being funded through Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) under Bill Shorten’s, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme of Australia, planned reforms.

Since 2020, specialised sex services have been available through the NDIS. The federal court ruled in a legal challenge that the National Disability Insurance Agency should approve those services where deemed reasonable and necessary to assure people’s right to intimacy, pleasure and sexual exploration. The precedent came from a case of a woman with multiple sclerosis, who wanted NDIS-funded sex services included in her plan, with a court declaring that the NDIS Act “does not expressly exclude such activities from being funded supports.”

However, on Sunday 7 June 2024, Minister Shorten told Sky News he was planning to change the rules and exclude sex work from the scheme.

“We will rule it out, yeah, we will rule it out. It’s just not a sustainable proposition, it doesn’t pass the test, does it,” Shorten said.

The decision came after an investigation by Sky News Australia found that a woman named Stephanie had been illegally charging the NDIS to cover her sex work bills as she did not have a formal agreement with the body.

Thus, Shorten promised to conduct a review of sex work offerings in NDIS, stating that he is “not sure” taxpayers would approve of the disability scheme financing sex work as he promised a review would probe whether all services are “reasonable and necessary.”

In response to this instance, the minister said: “The reality is, I’ve got one or two examples I’m aware of that it’s ever happened, ever. So it’s not what’s happening in most of the scheme.”

Instead, his decision seems to be motivated by the desire to cut down on spending. The federal budget is expecting NDIS costs to increase to over $90 billion by the end of the decade from $44.3 billion in 2024. Thus, the Australian government is trying to ensure the scheme, which supports more than 600,000 people with disability, is on a more financially sustainable footing.

Nevertheless, disability advocates have strongly opposed this decision, arguing that it stigmatises both the sex workers and disabled individuals who seek their services. For many disabled individuals, accessing sex work can be essential for their well-being and quality of life. Therefore, excluding them from accessing these services is seen as a violation of their fundamental human rights.

Of course, the right of disabled individuals to access sex work has not just been a controversial conversation in Australia.

In Germany, where prostitution has been legal since 2002, the Green Party once proposed that disabled people should be able to claim back benefits spent on sexual services on medical grounds with ‘Sex prescriptions’. However, the plan was quickly sidelined indefinitely, with ableist discrimination in the workplace being foregrounded.

Similarly, in 2019 a UK judge ruled that social services should not facilitate access to prostitutes for a man with learning disabilities.

This shows how enduring the controversial question of disabled people’s access to sex work is and raises valid points about whether there should be restrictions on how benefits are used, and the continuing stigma around sex work as a right to practice and purchase.

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