Regime still untried

A new work testing regime has started for ill and disabled people, but no-one has been referred in its first couple of weeks.

Under the new system, Work and Income can refer clients with a health condition or disability for a work ability assessment with one of 16 newly contracted providers.

Yesterday, CCS Disability Action chief executive David Matthews said the organisation remained concerned about the regime.

It had had reassurances, but wanted to see how it would work in practice.

Mr Matthews, of Wellington, was disappointed by the medical background of the providers, because the organisation preferred assessors with a disability background.

The focus should be on supporting the disabled into employment, rather than an ''impersonal medical-based assessment around capability''.

''You can assess people in terms of their capability for work, but we also need to have jobs that people can move into.''

Tests should be friendly and constructive and work in the interests of the disabled rather than the system, he said.

A hugely controversial testing regime in the United Kingdom caused ''chaos and churn'' for the disabled, and Mr Matthews did not want to see anything similar in New Zealand.

The service began officially on February 24, although the Ministry of Social Development was still finalising some of the 16 contracts.

Work and Income national commissioner Carl Crafar said the assessments would take a ''fresh look'' at a person's strengths and abilities, and anything that ''may be stopping them from working and what supports they may need''.

The tests would not be used to determine benefit eligibility.

Occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and rehabilitation nurses were among those who would provide them.

''Although we have had no referrals so far, we are on track. Before making a referral, our staff need to decide if a work ability assessment is the most appropriate step, or if some of Work and Income's other services may be more useful for a particular client,'' Mr Crafar said.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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