Communities of persons with disabilities have greatly welcomed the establishment of a new Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, and have agreed that it has the potential to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.
Disability Affairs Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Health Minister Andrew Little today announced plans for a new Ministry for People with Disabilities, the national launch of Enabling Good Lives (EGL) service delivery and a new law to improve accessibility in New Zealand.
The ministry, whose name has not been confirmed, is expected to be operational on July 1, 2022 with initial setup costs of $ 5 million of requested non-budgetary funds.
It will have its own executive director and will be responsible for driving better results for all people with disabilities through strategic policies and the provision and updating of services for people with disabilities.
Current cost expectations for running the ministry and providing EGL services have not been made public.
Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said she welcomed the fact that the new agency would cover both service delivery and policies, and her independence and ability to work across sectors and departments was fantastic.
“It is really important that there is an entity that can look directly at the government and can help government agencies shape their policies for the benefit of disabled people and also that this new entity can create its own policy and really start trying big. ideas such as creating greater equity between the ACC system and the health system and the welfare system. “
He said that if the accessibility legislation was done right, it could add an estimated $ 1.45 billion to GDP, simply by lowering barriers to people’s ability to contribute and live their lives.
“Which is a huge economic benefit, as well as all the social benefits that inclusion brings.”
She hoped the ministry could expand its reach beyond current types of service delivery and EGL, to find practical ways to regulate and reduce barriers faced by people with disabilities.
Colleen Brown has long fought for disability rights, including taking on Work and Income for repeatedly having to prove that her son Travers has Down syndrome in order to receive a disability allowance.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic that it went wrong, it should never have been right,” she said.
He said that having an independent ministry would help change or remove some of the entrenched attitude barriers that disabled people, families, and whānau had to constantly grapple with.
However, he was concerned about the effectiveness of the new ministry, and concerned about the relatively few mentions by ministers about parents and families, which were often an integral part of the lives of people with severe disabilities.
“It’s hard to see where they fit in, for them, carrying the burden with people with high and complex needs, with those on the autism spectrum who will not be able to live a life without continued family support.”
“We will have to wait and see how much influence that particular ministry will have.”
More data was also needed on where the need for disability lay, particularly for Maori.
“Five years ago we were assured that government agencies could share their data, I can’t see that. We can’t get data here in South Auckland for vaccines … those are the most vulnerable people and no one has the data.”
“So there is another opportunity for disability ministry.”
He was also optimistic about the Enabling Good Lives show, but “we’d like to see the money.”
However, independent disability advocate Jane Carrigan said the changes were similar to a pig’s lipstick. He agreed that the influence of the new ministry would depend on who was assigned to lead it, and it was not so positive.
“To date, it is an area that has been ruined by patronage and conflict, and unless those two areas are addressed, and I don’t have a feeling that some of the parties who came forward today will be given a hearing, no I make sense that it will change.
She said EGL “quantifiably fails the group most in need of disability support in this country” and would isolate people from the community, ensuring families are not supported.
“So yes, we are doomed to another version of the last version that failed. It is particularly disappointing for those people who are on the disability spectrum in the area where they most need help and support and do not get it.
He said it would be more of the same and hoped that families would have to keep going through the courts.
“I don’t see anything that gives me confidence.”
Disability Assembly executive director Prudence Walker said the announcement raised hope that the needs of people with disabilities will no longer be neglected.
She praised the creation of the ministry and supported EGL’s approach, but cautioned that both would need adequate resources.
“For this to be successful, leadership for the disabled is critical and this must be up front, not just something that happens in a prescribed way after a proposal is designed.”
“We know from the [EGL] regional trials that it is essential that this new approach is properly budgeted for it to work. “
He also said that the Accessibility Governance Board fell far short of what the DPA had been advocating for.
“We know that applicability is an essential tool for advancing accessibility and without it we will only see small adjustments rather than the transformative change that is needed,” he said.
Speaking at today’s announcement forum, Te Ao Mārama President Tristram Ingham said that people with disabilities often felt invisible when dealing with government agencies, and he was excited about the prospect of both the new ministry and the EGL nationalization.
He said that this was not the end of the journey, but that they were the first steps and that there was still much more commitment, consultation and collaboration.
The executive director of the New Zealand Disability Support Network, Peter Reynolds, said the move would raise hopes that disabled people will finally have a government agency that treats them as a priority rather than an afterthought.
“For that to happen, the new ministry must be built by and for disabled people from scratch. We welcome the commitment that the Accessibility Governance Board will be led by and represent disabled people and whānau,” he said.
“We also want to see people with lived experience of disabilities and disability support providers included in the Establishment Group, and in senior leadership positions in ministry.
“Many details remain to be resolved, but we are hopeful that this represents an opportunity for a better future for disabled New Zealanders, and we will work with the government to seize that opportunity.
Disability advocate Henrietta Bollinger said the changes were the culmination of the work of many disabled people.
“Disabled people have always had to demand a good life … at all times, disabled people have always known that living a good life cannot be pigeonholed or limited to one area: ‘health only’ or ‘disability only'”, said.
He said that the step towards the royal election was deeply personal and that the system had to adapt together with disabled people.
It was also important that the changes encourage everyone, not just some sections of the community, he said.
EGL governance group co-chair Ruth Jones said it was important that the changes were aimed at adding options and not taking anything away.
“We are building this waka and we are about to set sail, and I am committed to making sure everyone is by our side,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to the transition, I’m looking forward to really clear steps and processes, and I’m looking forward to an inclusive government group that, like a taumata, brings us together.”
EGL leadership group member Gerri Pomeroy said it was important that ministers had heard the kaupapa that people with disabilities, family and whānau could self-determine the life they wanted to lead, and in partnership with the government and the Maori.
He said that the model was closely aligned with the principles of Whānau Ora and that there was potential for a great impact on people’s lives.
Green Party spokesperson for disability, Jan Logie, welcomed the changes and said it was encouraging that the new ministry was run by disabled people, for disabled people.
“We hope this marks the beginning of a broader reform, such as the elimination of the inequalities between ACC and MSD,” he said.
“It is crucial that the new Ministry and accessibility framework honor Te Tiriti or Waitangi and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Partnering with the disabled and tangata whenua community will help bring about transformative change. for our disabled whānau “.