Abuse fund boost short, lawyer says

Lawyer Sonja Cooper is worried the Royal Commission of Inquiry into state care abuse is taking...
Lawyer Sonja Cooper is warning the state budget will have to rise again. Photo: RNZ
The Government has budgeted another $100 million to settle outstanding claims of abuse in state care, as more than 1000 survivors - including in Otago and Southland - continue their fight for justice.

But a Wellington lawyer specialising in abuse claims is warning the budget is still inadequate and will have to rise again.

Sonja Cooper, of Cooper Legal, said her firm had about 1200 active claims relating to the Ministry of Social Development, or Oranga Tamariki. It also had 30 active claims related to the Ministry of Health, 120 relating to the Ministry of Education and 55 relating to faith-based settings.

About 7% of all her claims - involving about 100 clients - came from Otago or Southland, and the list was growing as new clients emerged, she said.

"Last month, we opened 50 new files, most of which were for clients who were in the care of the state," she said.

The Government had previously paid out $24.4million to settle 1400 claims across the ministries of Social Development, Education and Health between 2004 and 2017. More than 800 claims remained unresolved in 2017.

Last month, the Government's first Wellbeing Budget granted another $93million to the Ministry of Social Development to resolve 1864 outstanding claims from people abused in state care.

A further $6.1million for claims was added to the Ministry of Education, which in 2017 had estimated a "worst-case scenario" would push its bill for settling claims to $3.884million.

Yesterday, it confirmed it had paid out $395,000 while settling 38 claims, but another 82 remained unresolved.

Ms Cooper said the extra funding did not include new money for the Ministry of Health, despite active claims in that area.

If the new funding was expected to cover the ministries' legal and other costs as well as settlements, the budget appeared "extremely modest", she said.

An MSD spokeswoman said $45million of its extra funding would go directly to claimants, while $3million went to other "wrap-around services".

The rest would cover "costs associated with receiving and responding to claims", but further funding would be sought once needed, she said.

Ms Cooper said there was also no budget yet for settlements resulting from the royal commission, which would scrutinise state and faith-based settings.

A royal commission spokeswoman said compensation was outside the scope of the inquiry, but it would make recommendations on what future compensation might be like. The inquiry was initially focused on state care when launched, before being expanded last year to included faith-based settings.

Between 1950 and 1980, more than 100,000 children and vulnerable adults were placed in state institutions.

Many faced horrific violence and sexual abuse, including in Otago at Campbell Park School, the Dunedin Boys' Home, Cherry Farm Hospital and the Seacliff asylum. A Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS), launched in 2008, heard from 1100 people, 57% of whom described being sexually abused while in state care.


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