Government announces new Ministry for Disabled People

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: RNZ
Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: RNZ
A new Ministry for Disabled People will be set up as the government rolls out a different approach to support services and brings in a new law to make Aotearoa more accessible.

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni and Health Minister Andrew Little announced the plans this afternoon, saying the government was delivering on its promise to reform disability systems.

The planned reforms include:

 - Establishing a Ministry for Disabled People and a separate Accessibility Governance Board
 - A nationwide rollout of the Enabling Good Lives approach to disability support services
 - Introducing Accessibility for New Zealanders legislation to improve access across Aotearoa

The ministers said the new ministry would work for better outcomes for disabled people, leading and coordinating policy for support services and across the wider disability system.

"The current disability system is broken and puts too many barriers in place for disabled people and whānau. This is why we are establishing a new Ministry for Disabled People as the heart of this change. It will join up all of the supports and services available to disabled people and replace a fragmented system where there is no single agency is responsible," Sepuloni said.

"The disabled community told us that disability issues are not just health issues. 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 comes more than a year after the Heather Simpson-led Health and Disability System Review largely disregarded disabled people and failed to adequately consult with them, leaving disabled communities furious.

About a quarter of New Zealanders have some sort of disability. Disabled people often make heavy use of the health system but the constraints placed on disabled people by society extend far beyond health to things like employment, housing, transport, education and more.

Disabled communities - of which there are many - were frustrated by the Simpson review's framing of disability only through the lens of health, its failure to acknowledge or make recommendations to consider work already done in the sector, and that it assumed the mechanisms for funding would remain the same.

The huge disparity between the support offered to disabled people through ACC, compared to those who access it through DHBs, has also been a major concern.

ACC has also been shown to be biased against women, Māori and Pasifika, and injured disabled people who needed help because of that injury had to juggle the ACC and welfare systems at the same time

Little's office has been consulting with the Disabled People's Organisations Coalition, and had been expected to announce major changes in September.

He reassured disabled communities in August that the voices of disabled people would be heard.

"We know that the Health and Disability review did not go far enough on disability issues," Little said today.

"The changes we're announcing today complement the work under way with the health reforms to ensure all New Zealanders, including the disabled community, have equitable access to the care they need, no matter who they are or where they live."

The Enabling Good Lives approach to service delivery gives disabled people control over a budget, dictating how their disability support funding can be spent.

It has been trialled in Waikato, MidCentral and Canterbury DHB for about six years, and has been celebrated by some for producing better results from the same level of funding.

While the model has its opponents who warn it is not financially sustainable, the outcomes have been held up as vastly superior to the current system.

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