Govt ministry established for Kiwis with disabilities

Laura James
Source: 1News

The 1.1 million Kiwis that live with a disability are now set to have their own Government ministry.

“Today the Government is delivering on its promise to reform the disability system,” Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni has announced.

She says this will be the most transformative changes to the system in more than a decade.

Disability support currently sits with the Ministry of Health, but Sepuloni acknowledged the system's broken, fragmented, and puts too many barriers in place for disabled people and whānau.

"We’ve heard and responded to their desire to lift disability support out of the health system, which is why we’re establishing a new Ministry for Disabled People to deliver support for all disabled people.

"It will join up all of the supports and services available to disabled people."

Disability advocates are pleased with the move, but say having disabled people at the heart of it will be key.

Backview of a  9 year old blond boy sitting in a wheelchair looking out of a window at a garden he cannot reach or play in.

The Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said "as a population group, nothing will ever meet our needs if we aren't predominantly leading it.

“Disabled people need power.”

Disabililty Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says she'll be closely monitoring that aspect.

"This ministry won’t succeed without disabled peoples’ leadership - and disabled people as employees and decision-makers during the transition and in its on-going development."

As part of the reform the Government's introducing new legislation, an accessibility governance board, and rolling out a new approach to disability support services nationwide.

The enabling good lives approach has already been successful in Waikato, Canterbury and mid-central pilot programmes.

Helena Tuteao, who's on the Waikato leadership group, benefits from the support herself and says it's been life changing.

Sepuloni told 1News, "the enabling good lives approach is about greater choice and control".

"Far too often in the past with disabled people, their health condition and disability has been determined, and someone else has told them therefore, what support and services they need to access for them.

"That hasn't always worked, we've taken the choice and control away from the disabled person. So the intent is certainly to hand back that choice and control, to ensure that there is more flexiblility with regards to how those dollars for support are spent, and that the disabled person has a say in that."

Tuteao, who's blind, uses the funding to employ one person for 10 hours a week.

She says because she has control she has a lot of flexibility and said, "I am able to direct what I need doing".

Sepuloni says final budgetary decisions are yet to be made, but the disability funding currently with the health ministry will be moved over to the new ministry when it's established on July 1 next year.

“I firmly believe the changes announced today epitomise a bold and truly transformative way forward for disabled people and their whānau to thrive in Aotearoa New Zealand," Sepuloni said.

"Disabled people make up 24 per cent of the population and...for far too many years, they have been overlooked, this is probably a decision that should have been made many years ago.

"We want all New Zealanders to be able to reach their aspirations, that's got to include disabled people and having a ministry with the intention in place will help us achieve that."

Tesoriero believes a smooth transition of Disability Support Services (DSS) to the new entity without disruption for New Zealand’s over 40,000 disabled people is also vital.

She says the move must not reduce the critical focus needed in the broader health reforms to better respond to disabled people.

She also urges people to engage in the select committee process considering the proposed legislation.

"I’m keen for robust discussion to ensure Te Tiriti-based governance, as well as considering whether the legislation would benefit from greater independence, greater incentives and stronger enforcement mechanisms."