Making New Zealand A Country With Less Formal Support For Disabled People

Imagine a world where disability supports weren’t categorised and under the control of providers.

There are already examples of disabled people managing their own supports, but even in the cases of Enabling Good Lives or Choice in Community Living (both of which use Individualised Funding), there is still a “middle man” of sorts, and still a lot of regulations on how personal budgets can be used.

Imagine getting away from all that. Imagine giving all the funding to the person from the very get go and allowing them to use it in any way they’d like. Or perhaps even, imagine giving them real freedom to use funding equally between necessary supports and option extras that still aid their good life.

For example, someone with a support budget of $60,000 per year would have that entire amount given up front, rather than monthly payments into a nominated bank account. The person could use this money on anything they’d like, including some of the following:

  • Buying transport to get into the community
  • Paying for tertiary education fees or existing student loans
  • Purchasing electronic equipment that can aid the needs of the individual, both personally and professionally (e.g. a film studio or furniture that is accessible) 
  • Paying for experimental drug treatments that aren’t yet funded by the health system

Of course, they could choose to spend their yearly budget strictly on support needs as well. But they’d have the choice, and the subsequent freedom.

What we are talking about here is a shift from formal ways of support, to throwing the rulebook out the window and actually putting the person fully into control of their own budget and how that is used on a yearly basis.

Even with the new initiatives; disabled people actually have no say on what the final figure of their yearly budget is. Supported self-assessments and NASC’s discuss needs, but in the end, the final decision regarding the figure is made by what the system concludes is an appropriate portion relative to the persons’ needs.

System Transformation will do its part in removing the regulation that’s placed on disabled people requiring support, and will in turn provide a greater level of flexibility that ever before. The rest, however, is going to be changes in attitude and releasing the balance of power. That includes budgets and how they are used.

The Disability Confident employment strategy

Less than 45% of New Zealand’s disabled population is employed, and a new campaign from the Minister for Disability Issues is again a little hit and miss.

The Disability Confident campaign aims to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, but in order to be successful, employers must be willing to forgo some of their pre-conceived ideas about what’s “best for business”.

Nicky Wagner, the Minister for Disability Issues, says that people with disabilities represent a vast pool of talent that employers can tap into to enhance their workplace. Wagner also touched on a good point in her comments about the campaign. She said that it also gives disabled employees more confidence and economic independence.

The campaign aims to support employers to hire, and retain, disabled employees.

On the MSD website, there is more information about the Disability Confident campaign. A guide can also be found, featuring ‘how-to’s’ for employing disabled staff and a section on what hiring people with disabilities can do for a business. But, like a lot of other attempts to improve opportunities for disabled people in the workforce, this campaign relies on employers being willing to participate.

The fear that I have is that most employers won’t. Attempting to engage the mainstream workforce and the disability community has been done before. To moderate forms of success and failure.

Originally, one of the big principles of Enabling Good Lives focused on creating successful employment outcomes for people with disabilities. However, in order for participants to be eligible for that help, they first needed to be on a living support of some kind.