Minister for Disability Issues lashes out in Parliament

nicky-wagner-mp-for-christchurch-central
Minister Wagner lashed out in Parliament this afternoon. Photo: TheWorkingBlog

In a remarkable afternoon in Parliament; the Minister for Disability Issues took aim at IDEA Services and labelled the provider irresponsible.

Opposition Labour MP Poto Williams has accused Nicky Wagner of reacting in an appalling manner when asked about cuts to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) support announced by IDEA Services on Tuesday.

In a rant of sorts, Wagner accused IDEA Services of doing a U-turn on discussions about re-signing the contract which would have seen the ASD support continue. Wagner also claims that IDEA refused to enter into transitional services before a new provider was found.

“After previously indicating they would renew contracts, they gave no notice their clients. They also refused to agree to a temporary three month contract”, Wagner said. “I say that IDEA Services is being totally irresponsible. We all know change is difficult, especially for this cohort of clients where routine and security is so important”, Wagner added.

In the aftermath of Wagner’s comments, the Ministry of Health issued a statement. Toni Atkinson, the senior media advisor for the Ministry, reaffirmed the Government’s stance that increased levels of funding has been injected into IDEA Services.

“IDEA have been funded $2.3million per annum to deliver these ASD services. They, like other providers, need to configure their service within the available funding”, Atkinson said.

Despite a long relationship between IDEA Services and the Ministry; it appears that the relationship could now be over.

“We acknowledge IDEA’s long standing commitment to the provision of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services through New Zealand. We are disappointed that the relationship with families and the Ministry is to end in this way”, Atkinson said.

Reaction on social media has been of shock and disappointment, particularly at Wagner for her comments. One woman said the Minister was in “la la land” if she couldn’t work out how underfunded the disability sector is.

The Ministry say that other providers have already showed willingness to pick up the ASD contracts. No firm date has been given for new services and an announcement won’t be made until a new provider is confirmed.

Atkinson says that the wait will continue for the high amount of people on waiting lists.

“People on wait lists will stay on the waiting list until new services are in place. The Ministry will ask IDEA to provide a copy of the current waiting list so that these people can be prioritised once alternative services are in place.”

The Ministry estimates that currently 446 active clients are involved in services and 728 families across New Zealand are on waiting lists.

Minister denies claims of reduction in funding for IDEA Services

The Ministry of Health and the Minister for Disability Issues have both denied a reduction in funding for IDEA Services led to cuts of support programmes for people with Autism.

Tony Atkinson, Disability Support Services Group Manager, rejected claims of funding reductions leading to IDEA Services pulling out of providing three programmes that support and educate people in the ASD community.

“There has been no reduction or cut in funding to IDEA Services”, Atkinson said.

The Ministry and IDEA Services want to limit disruption and the gaps between the end of one service and the beginning of other ones. Atkinson says that alternative arrangements for affected services are being worked through.

Just what those other services will be, and how accommodating they are to the thousands of people in the ASD community remains to be seen.

Aside from the thousands due to be affected by the cuts announced via a letter distributed from IDEA Services on Tuesday, many more are still on waiting lists as well. In the letter, IDEA pointed to an underfunding of $500,000 in the 2015/16 financial year as a big factor in their decision to cease continuation of three ASD programmes.

After negotiations with the Ministry of Health, a new contract was not signed. Atkinson says that the Ministry will be seeking alternate providers to continue services for ASD clients and also the others affected by home care and facility based respite cuts.

The Minister for Disability Issues palmed off suggestions of reductions and cuts also. When contacted by this blog, Nicky Wagner says she had no knowledge of the letter sent out by IDEA Services and questioned some of the quotes published on this blog.

“I haven’t seen this letter but nothing you quote is correct”, Wagner said.

Yesterday, the Minister announced the members selected onto a co-design group that will be tasked with transforming disability supports. Some concerns have been raised by members of the ASD community about their representation on the group.

Gabrielle Hogg is advocate for people on the Autism spectrum and says that a lack of representation goes against a call from the United Nations to have people with Autism in decision making roles on Government advisory committees.

Hogg says that she is very concerned that people on the spectrum are being ignored.

“Autistic individuals feel very much locked out from having direct feedback with being on the group”, Hogg said.

More to come.

Thousands on the Autism Spectrum have support cut

Members of the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) community have been left reeling after news that IDEA Services will no longer provide support to families due to funding cuts by the Ministry of Health.

Three popular and successful support programmes will get the chop, leaving many on the spectrum without their day bases and no education for families. It also means that the several thousand on waiting lists now have to miss out, at least until something else is sorted.

The news comes as a massive blow to the ASD community, and IHC New Zealand’s boss Ralph Jones says that the timing of the announcement comes as an “extra blow” that is “devastating” for the organisation and the people it supports. Just a few weeks ago, Jones also announced that several support services would be cut, including home support and facility based respite.

Other providers are now set to not only bare the increase in demand from the over 12,000 people affected by those cuts, but now also the large numbers involved with ASD programmes.

ASD programmes run by IDEA Services to be cut are:

Growing Up With Austism

ASD Plus

Communication & Behaviour

In total, IDEA Services was underfunded by a total $500,000 in the past financial year as the Ministry of Health continues its cut backs. This news comes despite the fact that Minister for Disability issues said that funding has increased by 4% each year throughout the sector.

IDEA Services has been providing large amounts of support to the ASD community since 2013 under a contact with the Ministry of Health.

The Government simply must inject more funding into disability support. If not, big cuts like this are only going to continue. Labour MP Grant Robertson took to social media to air his concerns, but very few others in Parliament have touched on the issue.

“We should restore the funding for this as part of a comprehensive and diverse set of support programmes for those with autism. It is what a caring and inclusive country would do”, Robertson said.

People suffering from autism and their families have taken to Facebook to air their concerns. One woman said that IDEA Services had done a lot of good work to develop autism awareness training but the Ministry of Health hadn’t provided enough investment for it to take place. Another woman, who works for a National Group Organisation (NGO), said that families are being left with less and less support while workloads for organisations only continue to lose workers who are fed up with being unpaid for extra hours.

This blog has contacted this Minister for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Health for comment.