Access by Various artists

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Disabled floater voters Part 4: Health and Support

by Disabled Persons Assembly New Zealand

This is the fourth of a series of blogs from the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA).   We have used DPA’s strategic areas of focus, as identified by our members, as a guide to examine key areas of each party’s policies. We have then asked questions that we would like answered from political parties.

Mental health, and physical health and well-being

Our communities, schools, and workplaces do not always value or include disabled people as they do others, and this impacts on our mental wellbeing. New Zealand has high rates of suicide. This not only includes people with long-term mental illness, but people with other impairments. People with psychosocial disabilities, autism or learning disability may be subjected to seclusion and coercive or compulsory treatment. 

Disabled people die earlier and have poorer health outcomes because of factors that are not directly associated with their impairment or condition. For example, New Zealand’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism reports that women with learning disability die on average 23 years younger than other women. 

How would your party positively influence the mental wellbeing of disabled people?

When would your party end seclusion?

How would it move towards ending compulsory treatment?

How would it reduce suicide?

How would it improve the health and life expectancy of disabled people?

Our comparative assessment: Mental health and the high suicide rate are receiving attention, with Labour leading the debate.  More emphasis could be placed on people with long term mental illness and other impairment types, and their rights within the mental health system.  No one has committed to a date to end seclusion or given a suicide reduction target.

Support and Living in the Community

Disabled people want to live in their communities, in their cultural contexts, and with choice about their own lives and control of their supports. Families want to ensure disabled children have the best start in life.

Having flexible and comprehensive support has been more likely in New Zealand if a disabled person’s support is funded through ACC, as opposed to the Ministry of Health. For disabled people to be able to live in their communities and direct their own lives requires transforming systems, connecting with more disabled people and families earlier, and updating support systems which have been narrowly focused on meeting needs that someone else has assessed, within a very tight budget. Options for family paid care are unreasonably limited.

Are there any rights or choices open to non-disabled people that you would deny disabled people? 

How would your party ensure disabled people and families realise their rights and choices?  

Would you consider social insurance similar to ACC a funding option?

Our comparative assessment:  While the 1999-2008 Labour government delivered for disabled people with its role in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the first New Zealand Disability Strategy, its review of long-term supports did not result in any reform, and there seems little further progress in Labour's current policy.

National came into power in 2008 on the tide of change of a Select Committee review of disability support, pointing to a need for substantial reform. The Māori Party has been the leader and innovator, initiating Enabling Good Lives (EGL), a progressive approach to support, choice and control. National have supported and continued EGL, with significant co-design and investment in preparing to roll out EGL across the MidCentral DHB region.

However, the pace of rollout could be improved through an investment in workforce development and ensuring adequate resourcing levels so that EGL can expand beyond the currently eligible group of disabled people. National here is an improvement on the previous Labour government's “review of long term supports” 

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Disabled floater voters 3: Education and Justice

This is the third of a series of blogs from the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA).   We have used DPA’s strategic areas of focus, as identified by our members, as a guide to examine key areas of each party’s policies. We have then asked questions that we would like answered from political parties.

Education

Many disabled children are not welcome in their local school, families have to battle to have their learning needs met and children may not achieve to their potential.  Many are excluded.  Many find it hard to make friends and most report being bullied. Disabled people are under-represented in tertiary education.

What will your party do to ensure disabled children are included and supported to achieve in their local schools and early childhood centres as of right? 

Would you work to ensure better school leadership and accountability, better teacher education and professional development, or more funding or other resources?

How would you ensure the school system is fully inclusive in the long term?

How would you support disabled people to achieve through tertiary education and through lifelong learning?

Our comparative assessment: the Green Party has done its homework on meeting the learning support needs of disabled students, and costed it.  Most other parties have differing levels of commitment to making education more inclusive.  To solve systemic issues, the system needs mechanisms to identify, quantify and respond to disabled students’ needs; and to measure progress and comparative achievement with their peers. 

Justice

Many disabled people are denied their legal capacity and their right to make their own decisions with support, including as they become older, if they have a learning disability or head injury, or if they are in the mental health system.  Many are victims of violence and abuse, including historic abuse in state care, and in the community today.

The justice system, family courts, Police, and other agencies are not trained to treat all disabled people fairly, as family members, victims, witnesses, or alleged perpetrators.  People with neuro-disabilities are the majority entering the youth justice system, they, and people with mental illness, make up the majority of all people in the criminal justice system.

What would your party do to ensure disabled people have the right to make their own decisions with the support they may choose? 

How would you reduce violence and abuse against disabled people? 

Will you hold an inquiry into historic abuse, apologise, and learn from it?

How would you reduce the number of disabled people in the youth and criminal justice systems?

Our comparative assessment: no party is strong on changes to rights and capacity laws and ensuring all disabled people’s right to make their own decisions with support.  Some are listening on the need for police training.  The OpportunitIes Party leads in promoting stronger civics and rights education.  On the positive side, all parties except National support an inquiry into and learning from the historic abuse of disabled people.

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Disabled floater voters: Employment and Income

by Disabled Persons Assembly New Zealand

This is the second of a series of blogs from the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA).  We have used DPA’s strategic areas of focus, as identified by our members, as a guide to examine key areas of each party’s policies. We have then asked questions that we would like answered from political parties.

Employment

Disabled people report wanting to work, but are less likely to be employed than others, and are on average on a lower wage, sometimes below minimum wage.  Barriers to work include limited accessibility of buildings, transport, information, communication, and employers’ perceptions of costs, and not recognising employee’s capabilities including meeting the needs of the diversity of potential customers.

What will your party do to ensure disabled people have increased opportunities and no barriers to getting a job and developing a career?  

Would you support broad accessibility legislation to enable increased employment of disabled people?

Would your party invest more in disabled people, recognising there are huge gains for employers and the economy as a whole if barriers to participation were removed?

Our comparative assessment: the recently released statistics from government state disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as others, and a third as likely to be employed. Initial evaluation of social investment found disabled people were not getting off benefits and into work. Access legislation to aid employment is supported by Labour, Greens, Maori Party, and possibly NZ First.  National established Project 300, initially in Christchurch, where more than 500 people found training or employment, and this will be rolled out beyond Christchurch.  Apart from this, commitments and targets are not strong across political parties.

Income

Many disabled people and their families  have additional costs that are not met and have time commitments that reduce opportunities to earn. Disabled people spend longer times on a benefit, sometimes a lifetime.   Many do not receive what they may be entitled to.  Sometimes people are forced to make hard choices, for example between food and going to the doctor.

What will your party do to ensure disabled people, including families with disabled children, have an adequate standard of living and do not live in poverty?

Our comparative assessment: This week’s news is disabled people earn on average half as much as others.  “Love has consequences”, said a National candidate to a disability forum defending benefit reductions to disabled partners with ongoing high disability-related costs. Lack of love might have consequences at the ballot box for less lovable parties.  NZ First has the best track record on leading the debate on superannuation and older disabled people’s income.  Mana and Green are strongest on ending poverty.

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Is the tide turning for disabled floater voters – or are we becalmed?

by Disabled Persons Assembly New Zealand

Disabled people are more than a quarter of the voting age population.  Our families and allies make an even bigger block.  At least 30% of us are open to changing our vote, so that’s at least 13 seats of disabled “floater voters” who can turn the political tide.  We will determine the next government.

Political parties in Australia have realised the scale of the disability vote, and the need to not leave disabled people behind in their policy agendas. In the last decade the biggest funding and legislation change issue has been a commitment to $8-9 billion increased investment to transform the disability support system there.  All major parties have moved to support this, despite concerns about its implementation. 

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have begun co-designing a new support system, and while we recognise the implementation problems in Australia, we have concerns about the lack of funding here compared to there.

In the NZ news headlines, apart from the increasing political profile of mental health issues, some recognition of the historic abuse of disabled people, and poorly handled bioethical issues that may impact on the lives of disabled people without our perspectives being sought, we are hearing mostly words of encouragement and empathy – and not much concrete resource commitment or legislative change. You wouldn’t recognise that this nation led the world in the development of the United Nations disability convention and has committed to its implementation. 

We have used the Disabled Person’s Assembly’s (DPA) strategic areas of focus, as identified by our members, as a guide to examine key areas of each party’s policies. We have then asked questions that we would like answered from political parties.

The blogs over the next few days, and strategic areas of focus are 

1. Introduction and housing

2. Work and  income

3. Education and Justice

4. Mental and general health, and support  and living in the community

5. Overall rating of political parties

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1. Housing

Many disabled people aspire to own their own homes, and many require rental or social housing.  There are not enough accessible houses for disabled people today, and with an aging population the gap is growing. 

Many can’t stay with friends and family because their houses are not visitable, meaning that they lack accessible entrances and basic ground level facilities, including an accessible bathroom and a bedroom.

More disabled people than others live in cold damp rentals, and many have long term health conditions and have an increased need for warm dry housing.

Many disabled people are discriminated against when seeking to privately rent.  ‘No pets’ policies conflict with the need for assistance animals.  Stable rentals  are required to build community connections and networks, and stability is a criteria for Government-funded modifications. Many older people, as they acquire impairments, move from their home to an aged-care facility as their home may not meet their changing needs.  Many disabled people experience housing deprivation and some sleep rough.

• What would your party do to ensure enough housing is accessible, warm, safe, and affordable to disabled people of all ages now, and in the future?? 

• Why can’t all new builds, terrain permitting, be at least visitable, and what proportion should be fully accessible? 

• Can accessibility be included in a rental’s standards, such as a “Warrant of Fitness? 

• How will you deal with homelessness?

Our comparative assessment: It's good to see increasing support for warm, dry homes, but more recognition is needed of disabled people’s needs here, including ending disabled people’s homelessness and ensuring the future accessible housing stock matches the needs of an ageing society.  Green best, then Labour, and Maori Party. 

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The Driverless Road Ahead

by Kumara Republic

For the past decade and a bit, I've been working as a computer technician and sales rep. During that time, I've seen the desktop and laptop computer go from being the main method people get on the Internet, to an also-ran in the face of the tablet and smartphone boom. And when your tablet or smartphone goes bung, it's often cheaper to replace them than fix them.

The result is that the computer technician is in danger of joining the TV repairer as a “rust belt” occupation. Low and middle-skilled workers who've been, or are at risk of being, dislocated out of work by external factors keep getting told, “just go back to university” or “learn to code from the Web” or “network with the right people”.

I hate to break it to all the I'm-alright-Jack motivational snake oil peddlers out there, but it's nowhere near that simple. When there's a 10-tonne lead-weight of social immobility on top of you and it's too heavy to lift off by yourself, it needs an external force to lift it unless you're a comic book superhero. And anyone saying, “if you believe in yourself enough, you can lift it off you!”, is asking for rude words to be thrown at them.

First off, here's a backgrounder. For a fuller explanation, see my blog post from 2012.

Early on in my life, my folks knew I was behaving a bit differently from others, family members included. And yet it took them many years to realise what kind of different – an ASD/SAD/ADHD kind of different, quite possibly PDDNOS.

I was an aliterate (as opposed to illiterate) youth who struggled with secondary school English class – even though English is my first language – and was frequently nagged and harangued by my mother to read more books. Ironically, I get a kick out of writing social commentary like this, despite no formal journalism training – and the Internet has a likely role to play in this – and even maintained a blog once.

Being the pushy Asian parent stereotypes of the time, they sent me to private school in the belief that the smaller classes would make a difference and get me a passport to an “Ivy League” career. Such as accountancy, one of the squarest of occupations, which my father has a background in and attempted to push me into in the hope of continuing some kind of “family business”. Upon being made a Chartered Accountants fellow earlier in this decade, he stated in his address that, “I regret that none of my kids have followed me into accounting. I guess IT and medicine will have to do.”

What I got instead from private school was no end of torment from Boris Johnson and Don Nicolson wannabes who punched down for the fun of it. And when I fell behind under the dual weights of arrogant young toffs and the immense pressure to succeed, my folks doubled down and basically had me “tutored to death” and sent to taekwondo lessons whether I liked it or not, not realising that such measures were attacking the symptoms.

When I asked why I was being sent to taekwondo, they told me it was “to increase your confidence”, when it had no effect of the sort. Safe to say that if I was Japanese and living in Japan, I would have joined the ranks of the “hikikomori”, a great many of whom are on the autistic spectrum or variants of it. Even “basement dwellers” in the West are social animals in comparison.

I was briefly one of those “basement dwellers” for a good few months after acutely bombing out of university finals, not once, but twice, and being forced to move back in with the folks after the money ran dry. All attempts to cross-credit to a tertiary institution closer to home proved unsuccessful, because of the proprietary nature of the course – a major in information science – and also because the HOD didn't want to “dumb it down”.

It was at that point I made the difficult decision to cut my losses.  Three different tertiary institutions later, I came to realise the hard way that the whole notion of “university or bust” is a recipe for a sunk-cost fallacy and a lifetime of debt for many, especially those not suited to self-directed learning.

Even the one polytechnic that I went to was little different from the theory-heavy material I struggled with at university. Some people speak of being the first in their family to graduate from university; I can only speak of being the first in the family to drop out.

And when the job market basically treats bachelor's degrees as the new secondary school, there's a problem. It seems to be largely an issue in the Anglosphere where tertiary education has seemingly devolved from a public good to a perishable good. Where people once attended university to expand their minds, people now attend university because they feel it's the only way to citizenship of the middle class – “diploma mills” are a visible symptom of this. If there's one thing I do miss about university, it's the campus life and the chance to meet many people from all over the world. And a strong academia is an important part of opposing populist anti-intellectualism.

Now to the here-and-now.

As it stands, much of my lifetime earnings have been subsidised by MSD, and I'm also partly relying on the charity of my folks who are topping up my living costs out of their pension, which, admittedly, not everyone is fortunate enough to have.

This is partly in recognition of taking a sizeable pay cut in order to qualify for a Community Services Card, which gets me greatly subsidised surgery for a rare and pre-existing dental condition – I went through something of a Trumpcare-grade experience until I was able to qualify for the card. And it's partly a gesture of apology for repeatedly misdiagnosing my neuro-deviance, trying to force the square peg that is yours truly into a round hole with a bigger hammer, and not recognising early on that I'm on some form of the spectrum and the associated difficulties with the job market that come with it.

In fairness, Dr Asperger's research wasn't translated into English until the mid-late 1980s, and it's taken some years to gain acceptance since. I may not be a “hikikomori”, but I'm still something of a “herbivore man”or a “freeter” in Japanese terminology.

I'm far from alone in facing the prospect of being on the wrong side of industrial singularity. Truck drivers are a case study in this – researchers estimate that self-driving trucks could slowly but surely render human drivers surplus to requirements. The Economist asks what becomes of the middle-aged, mid-career truckie who was bored stiff in the classroom and couldn't wait to quit school. I'm kind of like the desk equivalent of that mid-career truckie.

Even Bill Gates of Microsoft fame has called for a “robot tax” to dampen the impact of technological unemployment. The Internet is a double-edged sword – it's broken down the barriers to accessing information and media globally, and for a “digital native” like me it's heavily shaped the person I am today.

On the other hand, Instagram's employees number less than 1% of those who worked for Kodak at its peak, while the business is worth far more. And not everyone can be a gadget genius like Elon Musk or a code genius like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, who came from family affluence to begin with and for whom money was no obstacle to going to university.

For every Zuckerburg and Gates who chose to quit university to focus on building their future tech empires, there are countless university dropouts who struggle and eventually wind up in a dead-end rut. Fear of failure has long been a cultural trait in East Asian societies, whereas in the West it's more a practical thing. For all the stories of successful entrepreneurs failing once and getting back up, failure is often so expensive for the less financially secure, that it really is Sydney or the bush for them.

Repurposing workers who've been dislocated by technology and other external factors – or more to the point, rent-seekers who own most of the technology – becomes increasingly important. When you have your hands full keeping food on the table, a roof over your head, and the lights and heaters on, the time and money needed to upskill yourself is often an unaffordable luxury.

And for all the hype surrounding MOOCs and nano-degrees – with completion rates well under 10% – the above Economist article on truck drivers points out that most people who actually manage to complete a MOOC already have a university degree or otherwise can easily afford to take time off to study:

The costs of reskilling, in terms of time and money, are easiest to bear for people who have savings, can control their working hours or work for companies that are committed to upgrading their workforce. And motivation is an issue: the tremendous learning opportunities offered by the internet simply do not appeal to everyone.

For those unsuited to the self-directed approach of university or Web learning, myself included, an immersive and practical vocational approach like the one found in an apprenticeship is overwhelmingly best. The rapidly changing nature of an industry like ICT makes it far more suitable to trades training than university study.

The single biggest stumbling block to a “Great Repurposing” that can retrain people for new industries is that it's not going to come cheap, and under current Anglo-Saxon model economic thinking, it's very easy to shout, “how much will this big government tax-and-spend nonsense cost hard-working taxpayers?” A better question to ask would be, “what's the cost of doing nothing about the coming 4th Industrial Revolution?”

And such a cost has become all too obvious in just the last few years.

The Anglo-Saxon model status quo set in place by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s has been turned on its head by the Great Recession. The subsequent taxpayer bailouts of Wall St and the City of London have exposed the unresponsiveness and hypocrisy of the austerity narrative, and stoked perceptions that the hyperclasses can get away with daylight robbery.

Some forewarned that the pitchforks would come out, but they weren't taken seriously. Mainstream social democrat parties that have clung to a late 1990s Blairite/Tory-lite approach have found themselves ideologically hamstrung and severely punished at the polls – known as “Pasokification” – in favour of leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and parties like SYRIZA and Podemos to their left flank. Crank that up to 11, and you have Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro.

On the other side of the fence, illiberal and inward-looking jingoism is threatening to fill the void left by the collapsing New Right consensus, as seen in Donald Trump's America; the Brexit vote as cheered on by faux-maverick Nigel Farage; and Marine “trust me, the NF is longer anti-Semitic” Le Pen in France. Taken to its logical extreme, you're looking at France in 1789, Russia in 1917 and the Weimar Republic in 1933, all of which directly led to the deaths of millions. Here in NZ, we're unlikely to face war or civil unrest, but we still face the possibility of Winston and Shane holding the balance of power and replaying 1996 all over again.

The rise of Trump has been directly tied by some commentators to America's massive under-investment in vocational training and the associated social immobility, and the flipping of most of the Rust Belt states to the GOP for the first time in years.

The OECD ranks America and Britain, with NZ not much higher, near the bottom of the heap for active labour market adjustment policies. Even the likes of the IMF and World Economic Forum are starting to notice the connection between perpetual austerity and the rise of illiberal populism.

Leaving aside the ugly ultra-nationalism, Trump's pledge to strong-arm American industry to bring jobs back to America has so far rung hollow, with major companies like Carrier and Ford continuing to offshore to Mexico and China respectively. Trump also wants to prop up Big Coal at a time when it's being undercut by natural gas and renewable energy, the latter of which Trump seems to think of as for poncy treehuggers. By contrast, coal mining and oil drilling have an inherent red-blooded machismo that happens to be a big part of Trump's base.

A number of commentators argue that middle-class cultural anxiety, rather than working-class economic anxiety won it for Trump. One rationale is that Trump-style demagogues still made visible gains in Western Europe, despite having strong social safety nets and highly progressive taxation. Yet at the same time, Euro-Trumpists have largely failed to actually make it into government. It's possible that Trump was a wake up call to Europeans about what a Trumpist demagogue would actually look like in power.

Another rationale is that Rust Belt voters who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 stayed home or went to third parties like the US Greens and Libertarians, rather than Trump. Dig a bit deeper, and union-busting and voter suppression also played a big role. All the same, economic anxiety and cultural anxiety can be both interlinked, as well as confused with each other. The last thing any of us want is for the both of them to merge into something even worse, as Europe in the 1930s goes to show.

So what lies on the driverless road ahead? Thankfully, all is not lost.

The social enterprise Specialisterne is in the process of setting up shop in New Zealand. It has its origins in Denmark with Thorkil Sonne, an ICT pro whose son was diagnosed autistic and wanted to harness the unique traits of workers on the spectrum who were written off by the job market. Studies done in Britain and America have estimated that unemployment rates among those with ASD are as high as 80% – far higher than those with visible disabilities such as deafness or paraplegia.

Factors that inherently discriminate against autistic jobseekers include poor sense of eye contact, being “too honest”, and many other issues involving verbal communication. Specialisterne recognises this state of affairs, and assesses and trains them for companies needing the right people, particularly in the tech sector.

Many of the new jobs being created these days are non-routine jobs that are not easy for machines to do (such as management) and/or require greater social interaction than the ones they replace (such as care-giving). It puts at an inherent disadvantage the autistic, the social phobic and other “socially challenged” people who would have once worked routine industrial jobs that didn't require much social contact.

From a quick glimpse, the Future of Work manifesto takes considerably after the Scandinavian and German models of training and jobs, and sounds like a viable alternative to the Anglo-Saxon I'm-alright-Jack orthodoxy.

So how is it relevant to me personally? It includes proposals to retrain workers who've been put out of work by advancing technology, who would otherwise be in no financial shape to retool themselves. How very Scandinavian, and for good reason. Aside from the bread-and-butter aspects such as boosting R&D and STEM, closing the digital divide, and returning MSD to an actual jobs agency, the following aspects are relevant to me personally:

  • E14 – Establish skill-shortage levies to fund training in industries
  • E17 – Support hop-on, hop off training
  • E18 – Create gateways back into education for older New Zealanders
  • S1 – Every worker who loses their job as a result of technological change provided retraining and support
  • S14 – Advocate for better work practices for mature workers and engage them through mentoring programmes
  • S18 – Develop an employment plan for people with disabilities
  • T4 – Create greater focus on digital upskilling and creativity
  • T5 – Invest in creators through digital apprenticeships, creative thinking clubs, and garage grants

It's very easy to dismiss the Future of Work as just another talkfest at best, or an excuse to rehash the “Polish shipyard” bogey at worst. But it's an issue that goes way beyond partisan politics. And the longer the status quo persists, the more likely the Good Ship New Zealand may encounter a Brexitrump iceberg, barring a miracle and those in charge of the status quo step out of their leafy comfort zones and put the greater public good first.

I strongly believe programmes like the Future of Work are seawalls that can guard civil society against the tidal waves of ultra-populism, and more importantly, it's the politics of hope – a blueprint for a new social democratic pathway that echoes Michael Joseph Savage's “applied Christianity” and FDR's New Deal.

As with their physical counterparts, let's build bridges to upskilling and gainful employment, not walls.