In the latest census 24% of the population were identified as disabled, that is 1.1 million people New Zealanders. Many of those are older people with physical impairments, but for young people learning disability is the most common. Then there are all their families and carers and service providers. So you would think that political parties would be trying hard to court the votes of this valuable sector. Disability policy covers health, education, social development, ACC, housing, employment, transport, justice and human rights as well as other portfolio areas, with sometimes complex interactions.
Disabled People’s Organisations such as People First are actively encouraging their members to enrol and vote. But last week’s well attended election forum in Wellington on Disability Issues organised by five large disability organisations showed that several parties are not taking the sector seriously.
We have had two effective ministers for Disability Issues since that portfolio was established by Helen Clark’s government in 2000. Labour’s Ruth Dyson, and Tariana Turia from the Maori Party have both engaged well with the sector and had some significant policy changes. Ruth oversaw New Zealand’s contribution to the development and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and among numerous wins on her watch were NZ Sign Language becoming an official language, and the closure of the last institution. Although outside Cabinet, Minister Turia established the new role of Disability Rights Commissioner in the Human Rights Commission and persuaded the government to fund monitoring of the Convention by disabled people’s organisations themselves.
A group of our disability representatives and government advisors are in Geneva this week discussing progress on implementing the Convention.
There is a lot of interest from the sector in disability policy and the future. In June the IHC identified New Zealander’s top election concerns as education, health, jobs, poverty and the gap between rich and poor. As these issues disproportionally affect people with intellectual disability and their families some of their members questioned the parties on their policies known by then.
But disability policy has only dribbled out, and some parties such Act and the Conservatives seem to have completely overlooked us. The new youth-run ours.co.nz website has a comprehensive list of party promises announced before 7 September. Policies are summarised under numerous headings and under Disability is the following:
- Ensure implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention
- Employ 100 additional special education teachers and comprehensively review the entire system of special needs support
- Provide free annual health checks for people with an intellectual disability.
- Implement recommendations of United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Enact legislation similar to the U.K. Disability Discrimination Act to close existing loopholes in our legislation.
- Ensure all new houses and buildings fully comply with disability access requirements unless specifically exempted.
- Establish a Disability Issues Commission.
- Provide free, accessible advocacy services while supporting the right to self-advocate.
- No sterilisation of anyone under 18 unless necessary to save the person’s life.
- Ensure full information must be given where an abnormality is diagnosed before the family makes their decision on whether to proceed with the pregnancy or not.
- Recognize that the disabled are best able to identify and articulate their own needs.
- Disability support services which are delivered after self-assessment and which facilitate physical and economic independence.
- Improve oversight of disability care.
- Improve support for unpaid carers.
- Ensure adequate funding and support for family home carers under ACC.
- Ensure infrastructure, transport and information are universally accessible.
- Review Child Disability Allowance with a view to increasing the rates.
- Ensure separate accommodation within rest homes for young disabled people.
- Change student/teacher ratio for vision impaired students from 1:35 to 1:15.
- Ensure objectives of NZ sign language legislation are fully carried out.
- Support an independent review of current audit and monitoring provisions.
- Establish a national Māori advocacy service.
- Extend individualised funding.
- Promote the Circle of Friends.
- Establish an annual Disability Employment Summit
- Establish community-based advocacy services to ensure that every disabled person and their family have a case manager.
- Support the development of “family governance groups” to oversee life-long care arrangements for individuals with disabilities.
- Commission an independent review of current audit and monitoring provisions for disability care providers.
- Promote a client-driven, rather than provider-driven, disability support sector.
- Develop standards for group housing that provide residents with a greater voice.
- Support home ownership for people with disabilities through state housing.
Since then Mana has put out a detailed policy based on rights, inclusion and with a focus on disabled Māori. Last week the Greens put out a special education policy promising to double the number of children who receive ORS, increased support for Early Intervention, after school funding, and a review of the whole area of special education. National has a new policy to create 800,000 more teacher aide hours. Last Friday came the news that Government, unions and providers had agreed to pay home support workers at least the minimum wage and mileage for their travel between clients from July next year.
Loren Corbett of the 20% campaign (named before the census increased the proportion to 24%) has scored the parties on their disability policies.
So last Thursday I joined about 150 others in Wellington to hear about Disability policies from the parties themselves. This meeting had been organised several weeks ago and was sponsored by IHC, CCSDisabilityAction, People First, DPA and the NZ Disability Support Network. Time keeping was strict via bell and flag. Here is video link.
There are protocols for engaging with this sector. Care needs to be taken with the language used (eg no ‘handicapped’), and to avoid being patronising or assuming disabled people’s lives are tragic or require fixing. Respect for the lived expertise members of this sector have is important, which means asking for more information and then taking the time to listen, if you do not know the answer.
The meeting started badly when Te Ururoa Flavell stated that the Māori party wants to repeal the NZ Public Health and Disability Amendment Act No 2 – the bill that was passed under urgency following the 2013 Budget and which denies the paid care option to many family members, and even worse removes any avenue for challenge under human rights legislation. Repeal is a popular policy – except that his Party voted for it and helped it pass. Which he then denied. And then he had to leave.
Other speakers then had their three minutes and questions. Green party MP Mojo Mathers, a sector friend and insider, was a favourite. Unfortunately, Ruth Dyson’s plane was stuck in fog in Christchurch, but Labour MP Chris Faafoi was a last minute replacement. He was already acquainted with some of the disabled people present – always good sign – and his background in Aged Care and Broadcasting meant he understood many of the issues (such as workforce development and captioning). Although he was not familiar with some specific questions, such as after school care for disabled children, he stayed around afterwards to find out more. Local candidate Hugh Barr stood in for NZ First’s Barbara Stewart, and could only read out policy. National had sent along list MP and local candidate Paul Foster-Bell. Not sure why. The Mana candidate agreed with everything questioners raised fitting them into encompassing Mana principles.
So overall the audience knew a lot more than the pollies. Had there been time these are the some of the questions I wanted to ask. None of them were answered at this meeting, but we can keep asking.
- How will you make schools welcoming and inclusive for all children and their families?
- How will you make the benefit system less demeaning and complex for those who need it including parents of disabled children trying to access the child disability allowance?
- Will you remove the minimum wage exemption?
- How will you encourage the development of real jobs and inclusive accessible workplaces?
- Will you repeal the NZPHD Amendment Act No 2Act which removes access to a complaints process on human rights for family carers and what will you replace it with?
- How will you ensure that all buildings, houses, businesses and cities are accessible for all?
- How will you reduce health disparities for disabled people including those with mental illness?