What social support is available?

Many Australians, including those with disability, use social support services intermittently throughout life—if and when circumstances arise. Others need long-term support to help them fully participate in all facets of life.

What is meant by social support?

In this report, social support refers to government-funded support provided by specialist disability services and aged care services. However, social support can also be considered more broadly than this, and may include things such as income support, housing assistance and homelessness support.

Specialist disability services

Specialist disability support services are designed to help people with disability participate fully in all aspects of everyday life. They may supplement other support a person receives—such as that provided by mainstream services, the community or informal carers.

What are specialist disability support services?

Specialist disability support services may include:

  • assistive technology (for example, wheelchairs, hearing aids and voice-recognition computer software)
  • case management
  • early childhood intervention services
  • life skills development
  • specialist accommodation
  • support to live in the community (such as personal care and domestic assistance)
  • support to participate in community activities
  • respite care.

Specialist disability support services are primarily aimed at people aged under 65, but support is also available to those aged 65 and over, provided they meet eligibility requirements.

Government-funded specialist disability support services are largely provided through either the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or under the National Disability Agreement (NDA). Most people using services under the NDA are expected to progressively transition to the NDIS as it rolls out across Australia. The NDIS is expected to support around 475,000 people (including 460,000 aged under 65) once it is fully rolled out in 2020.

How many people receive specialist disability services?

Table SPECIALIST SERVICES.1: Number of people using specialist disability support services


(at 30 June 2018)



Who receives specialist disability support services?

Table SPECIALIST SERVICES.2: Selected characteristics of people using specialist disability support services

Selected characteristics

NDA service users

NDIS participants
(at 30 June 2018)

Aged 18 and under






Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander



Intellectual primary disability (including autism)



Psychiatric/psychosocial primary disability



Do people get the help they need?

Based on self-reported survey data, an estimated 39% of people with disability living in households need assistance from formal service providers. These formal providers are most often private commercial organisations (for 64% of those receiving formal assistance) or government providers (46%) (people may receive support from more than 1 provider).

Most (87%) people with disability who need formal assistance with at least 1 activity receive some support. The majority of these are satisfied with the quality of service (85%) and the range of services available (74%).

These data are provided for context and are not intended to evaluate specialist service provision under the NDIS or the NDA. It is important to note that: the latest available survey data are from 2015, which pre-dates the main rollout of the NDIS; not all formal services are specialist services; and formal services may or may not receive government funding.

NDIS outcomes framework

The NDIS outcomes framework questionnaires collect information on eight life domains from participants, their families and their carers using a lifespan approach, and provide some measures of the medium- to long-term benefits to participants. This includes asking whether the NDIS has helped with various aspects of life. For example, from transition to 30 June 2018:

  • for parents and carers of child participants aged 0 to before starting school, 89% thought the NDIS had improved their child’s access to specialist services
  • for families and carers of participants aged 0–14, 61% considered that the NDIS had improved the level of support for their family
  • for participants aged 25 and over, 71% indicated that the NDIS had helped them with the activities of daily living (that is, how independent they are in 9 areas of daily living, such as shopping and home cleaning).

Younger people in residential aged care

Government-subsidised aged care in Australia is provided on the basis of need, rather than age. As such, sometimes even very young people take up permanent residential aged care to meet their care needs. While for some people this is a setting of choice, generally, younger people are considered to be better served by other services to provide for their long term needs.

On a given day, about 6,000 younger people (aged under 65) are in permanent residential aged care (or 3.3% of people in permanent residential aged care at 30 June 2018).

On entry:

  • 1 in 5 (22%) have limitations in all 4 core activities, such as self-care (88%) and moving around (77%)
  • 2 in 3 (66%) have limitations in all 6 recorded ‘other’ activities, such as transport (93%), social and community participation (92%) and health care (92%)
  • 1 in 6 (16%) have limitations in all 10 recorded activities (2013–14).

Activity limitations in aged care

In an Aged Care Assessment Program (ACAP) assessment, a person is considered to be limited in a particular activity if they have difficulty carrying out the activity and require another person to assist or supervise. The 10 recorded activity limitations can be divided into ‘core’ and ‘other’ activities:

  • Core activities—consist of self-care (daily tasks to do with, for example, eating, dressing and toileting), communication, movement (for example, changing position or moving from chair or bed) and moving around (walking or otherwise moving between places at or away from home).
  • Other activities—consist of health-care tasks (for example, taking medications or managing chronic health issues), transport (driving or use of public transport), social and community participation (including shopping, financial management and recreational activities), assistance in domestic activities (managing household chores), meal preparation and home maintenance (such as basic house repairs and gardening).

The most commonly reported main conditions for younger people in residential aged care are dementia (17%), cancer (13%), progressive neurological conditions (such as Huntington disease, Parkinson disease and motor neurone disease) (10%) and cerebrovascular disease (10%).