So-Called Disability Funding Increases Help Nobody

A growing sense of déjà vu and justified frustration can be felt as funding shortages for disability support services show no signs of slowing down – and one of the Ministers involved doesn’t seem to care. 

Disability support providers have once again aired their concerns over Government funding, or the lack thereof, in wake of the Ministry of Health detailing how its $72m financial expenditure needs to be spent this year.

Priorities for the expenditure are gender pay equity and meeting the growing demand for disability support services.

Service providers are unhappy and will continue to face the growing prospect of having to shut down completely in the future. Where this leaves the disability sector and the landscape of service provision is the million-dollar question, and it continues to spark much debate as everyone searches for a way forward.

But ask the Associate Minister for Health Julie Anne-Genter what she thinks and she’ll downplay the situation to nothing more than a matter of operations.

Much of the reaction on social media is calling for sector representatives to ask tougher questions of Ministry officials. Meanwhile, some providers and National Group Organisations (NGO’s) are also not immune to the growing criticism within the disability advocacy space.

Their structure is in question and there is a call for greater clarity surrounding expenditure with growing concerns about exactly how the Government’s financial injections have been used over the years, apart from simply providing services and meeting the rising operational costs.

CCS Disability Action, one of New Zealand’s biggest service providers, and the Disability Support Network (NZDSN), the national umbrella for providers, have both featured heavily in media coverage surrounding the issue of substantial funding shortages impacting the disability sector.

They say that the costs of supporting disabled people are rising and that the recent $72m funding increase for service provision won’t provide the adequate cover to deliver on contracts. The apparent effect of that is fewer clients being accepted by providers, leaving little to no alternative for many seeking specialized supports.

Perhaps this is why the Government announced fairer pay deals for some family caregivers?

According to concerns raised by providers, an increased financial deficit (said to be between $150 – $200m) is also impacting on the further continuation of other important aspects of their work, such as advocacy groups and accessibility work with local councils.

But the questions and the doubts remain as some advocates question the expenditure within these organisations as well as the strategic priorities year-to-year.

Most service providers have a paid board, chief executive, and management staff. Their general mission includes (but is not limited to) providing quality and specialized support services for disabled people and families as well as the sufficient professional training for frontline workers. The concern is over where this sits against the other priorities.

In other realms of social media, some asked why the voice of disabled people and families haven’t been included in some of the media coverage, including a report by RNZ on Monday.

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According to the letter dated 3rd July sent to providers from the Ministry of Health, the priority for funding expenditure this year will be “achieving gender pay equity” and “meeting growing demand”.

Recent claims in the sector back up the concerns around demand raised in the MoH letter, with an estimated extra 20% of unidentified supports having come to the forefront since the launch of the Mana Whaikaha Enabling Good Lives scheme in the MidCental region.

Pay equity pressures have also increased due to the higher minimum wage that took effect in April 2019, this on top of the already rising costs associated with the caregivers pay equity deal.

To play devils’ advocate, one could argue that despite the increase in overall funding sector-wide, providers still face the same issues they did prior and that the direction of where money can be spent doesn’t address the problem. There is also the costs of transport and accommodation, holding meetings with key stakeholders, and all the other usual costs associated with running an organisation, often both with a national office and several smaller regional bases, all of which have those same costs in addition.

Is it any wonder that providers such as CCS Disability Action are expressing anger? In 2016, CCS undertook a nationwide overhaul to re-prioritise how it operated regionally with much more top-down emphasis. Many other providers have done the same and almost all of them have felt intense pressure to cut costs wherever possible.

In April, that pressure increased even more so when MoH was said to be “cutting services by stealth” before being stopped at the last minute from making even more radical changes to funding which would’ve seen $10m in cuts this year and a further $20m next year.

But ask the disability sector and you’ll be told that the support cuts are still continuing.

There is little doubt that the financial strain faced by the disability sector will be one that goes on for some time. Many have become fed up, and if you read between the lines of what the Ministry is attempting to do with its expenditure guidelines, their direction seems to be that of bringing more disabled people into the support system without fully measuring out the costs to support them.

Does anyone else get a sense of déjà vu?

Many who’ve previously denied that the disability sector is in a deep financial crisis are now starting to ring the bells for change, frustrated that ‘all the talk’ is leading to continued poor outcomes. There is a greater willingness from many to question the status quo, and most agree that the disability sector is in a deep financial crisis, one that has been going on for years it seems.

Simply saying so doesn’t begin to address finding a solution, both to the financial issues at hand but also the varying levels of silo within the disability sector itself

Disability Funding Increases Aren’t Actually Helping Anybody

For every small victory, it seems the disability sector is presented with another injustice from a Government (and previous Governments) that is keen on supporting the now infamous “nothing about us without us” disability narrative.

The reality is this. Decisions are being made above and beyond the concerns raised, not just by providers with financial obligations to meet, but by a growing number of disabled people on the ground.

This is not simply down to operational matters and expenditure, it’s about a willingness to engage in an on-going accountable dialogue between all parties. Substantial structural change may be required across the disability sector and who knows what that will look like because, for New Zealand, it will be completely uncharted territory.

The UN found New Zealand to be more than a little lacking on upholding the rights of persons with disabilities on nearly every front and it’s an embarrassment that the accountability of that seems to be a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Work vs Exploitation: Fair Pay For Disabled Workers

Disabled people and others in marginalized communities have long been exploited for cheap, even free labour. It’s time the discussion of fair pay was had, as is the case elsewhere. 

According to an NZ Herald report yesterday, a woman with a disability is being paid $2.30 per hour by Air New Zealand to untangle earphones, something that is perfectly legal in New Zealand.

It is one of those simple yet divisive issues, how much should a person be paid to work? Throw the disability label into the equation, and you’ve got an even muddier conversation to have.

I want to start this by stating a simple and obvious fact. There is a difference between working and volunteering.

Working in a professional environment deserves fair and equal pay, regardless of if a person is disabled, or a woman. I make that connection because in the past 24 hours I’ve seen and read the justifications of some 900+ disabled people being exempt from the minimum wage being made by the same people that have argued the gender pay gap being discriminatory.

Like that gender pay gap, legal wage exemptions for disabled workers is just as discriminatory, so please, take a look at yourself in the mirror.

The barriers that disabled people face in finding work are well-known, as are the wage exemption issues placed on many of them. It’s something that has been allowed to happen thanks largely in part to the stigma that is still attached, primarily to those with an intellectual disability.

That stigma, as was repeated to me just yesterday, is that those with a disability don’t have the skills to command the minimum wage.

Sure, I am willing to believe that this is the mindset of many a mainstream employer. I am also willing to believe that for a lot of these 900+ disabled people, the pay isn’t the primary motivator for doing tasks such as untangling headphones for an airline company. I would assume that for some it is about giving something back to the community, having a sense of purpose, getting that feeling of achievement, just doing something to stand up and be counted.

My bigger point here is that this is known by employers, by agencies, even by some disability organisations, and it is being exploited.

Combining this pay, in some cases even as little as $1 per hour, with the Work and Income benefit, is another justification some are trying to make. I get your point but you are missing the bigger point.

Such is why this has become such a divisive issue and one that the disability community needs to address. What should come of this is a simple question, that being, is this what we are willing to accept for our people? There is already enough discriminatory practice out there, are we willing to sit back and say this is ok because of reasons X, Y, and Z?

Furthermore, accepting the premise that some may have limited skills, why don’t we also talk about why that may the case, is it a lack of ability or a lack of investment from the very start?

Dress it up and justify it any way you like, but this is an issue that has already been overlooked for far too long. Maybe now we can address this, not only in terms of what is fair and justifiable, but what is an actual job versus tokenistic cheap labour.

That’s something to ponder as this country heads into a budget week where Government is expected to put aside billions in resource for other areas.

The Realities Of Managing My Own Disability Support

After nearly two years of being the employer and client of my support staff, the lessons I’ve learned along the way were ones that I was completely unprepared for, and other disabled people may be too. 

Support for disabled people to learn about how to be good employers is going be a critical aspect of the new system which prototypes in the MidCentral beginning this October. Some aspects of that new system have already been practiced in the Waikato under the Enabling Good Lives demonstration, and I can say that for myself personally, I would have benefited greatly from some hands-on training prior to becoming an employer of my support staff.

Not that people actually have to take on this role if they don’t want to, they will have a choice about that, and I suspect that many will leave the direct managerial responsibilities to a third party. In a lot of cases, that may be a wise decision because being the direct employer does come with a lot of time requirements, and disabled people who choose to go into the new system actually want to spend more time focusing on other things.

There will be options to have a provider manage all the day-to-day HR requirements, including payroll and the hiring/firing aspect. You can also choose to have something of a hybrid of both, where you or your family can manage the money side of things and just pay a monthly invoice to the provider.

Like others in the Waikato during the EGL demonstration, I was in the unique position to have experienced the realities of self-managing using both of these approaches.

When I first transitioned to living independently, I hosted my funding in a bank account but chose to have a provider manage payroll, rosters, and the hiring of new staff. Six months after doing things that way, I transitioned away from a provider and took on the direct employment of staff, which included drawing up contracts, negotiating pay rates, organising rosters, and doing payroll every fortnight. 

Each has its own pros and cons, and it will come down to the personal preference of disabled people and families based on what is important to them. Many don’t want the hassle of taking on the responsibilities of being an employer, they just want to be in control of where and when the supports are delivered.

But at what cost? 

When I was using a provider, I found that it wasn’t always as simple as saying I wanted X, Y, and Z on this particular week. When you couple that with the costs that providers will charge for their own overheads, often it can end up being slightly more expensive per fortnight than it would if people took care of all the management themselves. 

The difference wasn’t major but it was enough for me to justify making the leap to being an employer.

But the struggle with that is learning about the responsibilities that being an employer presents, including the negotiation aspect and the complexities of employment law. In my case, I didn’t feel adequately supported to make that transition but it was one I needed to make nonetheless due to the need to remove the impacts on the budget that the overheads of the providers were having.

Part of the issue, as always, is ensuring that disabled people and families are informed about what services are out there. For example, in the Waikato there is a company called FuturesNZ that can help with employment networking and solutions. I heard about them through my Connector/Tuhono, and there are also plenty of resources online that can help with building employment contracts.

Disabled people who choose to be employers must be equipped with everything they need to know before making the transition into what is a position that comes with some serious legal ramifications if it goes wrong. Because when it does go wrong, and I know this from personal experience, the legal costs will come out of your support budget, therefore having the potential to impact directly affecting your ability to pay your support workers.

This is where things like capability funding for groups of disabled people and families become important, and it’s great that this will be available in the MidCentral during the prototype. It would be great to see a series of workshops that provide that hands-on employer training and advice for disabled people and families who choose to take the leading role in the day-to-day support.

The Realities Of Managing My Own Disability Support

Apart from the gigantic learning curve, my experience being directly responsible for the employment and management of my support staff has been a rewarding experience.

The important thing to remember is that the people who support you are just that, people, and they’ll all bring different skill sets to the table. They’ll have days where they exceed your expectations and days where they may not meet them, and how you manage all the different factors of the employment situation is ultra important because all these factors contribute towards what can be an incredibly vibrant or terribly toxic working relationship. Another big lesson I’ve learned is about the importance of being a good communicator and having the ability to have those tough conversations when required. 

 

BUDGET 2017: Pay Equity will have an impact on IF clients

July 1st is fast approaching – and for people with disabilities using Individualised Funding (IF) things could be about to get quite interesting.

The Care and Support Workers Pay Equity settlement got its first reading in Parliament last week, but some of the major concerns surrounding how people and families will fund the impending pay increases still remain.

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway spoke in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon as the bill went into its first reading.

Lees-Galloway spoke of a woman with over 20-years worth of experience working as a care worker and hailed the Government for its decision to meet with the Care Workers Union.

“I want to congratulate the Government for getting around the table, but they were forced to do so because if they didn’t then the court settlement was going to result in a much greater exercise”, Less-Galloway said.

“The model of the Government getting around the table and admitting that they have a really bad problem is an incredibly good one, and it sets a wonderful precedent”, Lees-Galloway added.

Pay Equity was signed off by Government on May 1st after Kristine Bartlett, a care worker from Wellington, took the case to the highest levels and had hundreds of people rally round her. But at that point it seemed like the deal was primarily for care workers in the Aged Care sector.

From July 1st – every care worker across all sectors will think they are eligible for the big pay rise.

Union members say that the Government will have no choice but to increase the funding levels of individual packages, but there is a big possibility that it won’t happen. If it doesn’t, people may be forced to drop crucial support hours in order to be able to afford pay increases for individual care workers. The Ministry of Health held an emergency series of meetings last week to address this very issue.

Budget 2017 has thrown an additional spanner into the works as well. According to the Minister for Disability Issues, the total financial cost for Pay Equity is $1.54billion and not the $2billion originally promised. That’s a quarter of a decrease from the first plan but it does fall under the total health budget increase.

Will better pay for care workers result in a better service?

Pay equity comes into being from the beginning of July – but the price will also go up for people who need support.

The Government said that the $2billion settlement wouldn’t just include workers in the Aged Care sector – and yet this seems like the most plausible area to start. But for the weekly cost of living in a rest home or care facility, costs will no doubt rise as a result of higher pay. According to the Government, increases in funding will occur across the Health and ACC budgets.

For a long time now, New Zealand’s elderly have paid some very good money, often for poor service in return. The quality of caregiver, you’d hope, will increase as a result of a higher pay packet. The disability and aged care sector could see a rapid rise in employment rate as people now seek the job due to this higher pay.

Is this all to the benefit of the clients? Well, having more care workers on the floor in a rest home is a great place to start. But there is no promise that each individual shift will see more people working at any one time, and this is something that needs to be addressed.

You’d hope that a higher paid  worker would result in a happier, and ultimately, better support worker in the process. However, you can have the greatest worker in the world, but if they have too much on their plate all the time, then the quality of care for individuals won’t improve.

So where does the Service Provider fit in among all this? A lot of Service Providers rely on funding from Ministry contracts, so you’d think that those under the MoH will be able to pay their support workers more.

But seeing all this being implemented and signed off on by July 1st seems a stretch for most Service Providers; especially the ones struggling to balance the books already. The conversations, surely, must have begun already surrounding what happens from July 1st.

Remember – the Government have moved to slam the door on future claimants as well. The fight is far from over, but in the meantime let’s try and attract the right care workers for the right positions across the board. Easier said than done, I know, but if you can get that right then it will go a long way toward enriching the experience for both the care worker and the client.