Disability funding changes ‘callous’ and a broken promise, Labour says

Labour says the government’s move to narrow disability support funding criteria is “callous”, and breaks a promise not to cut frontline services.

The government argues the amount of funding has not been cut – just what it can be spent on.

Whaikaha, the Ministry for Disabled People, unveiled changes on Monday to purchasing rules for disabled people’s equipment and modifications supports and services.

This meant things that “would be considered something that every citizen has to pay for” would not be eligible, among a range of other restrictions.

The ministry said the changes – which took effect on the same day they were announced – did not reduce the amount of funding allocated to disabled people, and only made clear what could be purchased.

Labour’s Disability Issues spokesperson Priyanca Radhakrishnan said the announcement was very unclear, but it was a cut.

“This is a cut to frontline services, let’s be very clear about that,” she said.

“This is support services that disabled people and their carers rely on … it is narrowing the criteria to the funding to such an extent that parents who’ve contacted me say they won’t be able to access anything through it. That’s a cut.”

Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan

She said the move flew in the face of the ethos of a 20-year programme that had pushed for greater flexibility for disabled people around the use of funding.

“This is unacceptable. This is taking flexibility and choice away from disabled people and their carers, and there is a lot of anger out there about the fact that there was no consultation or engagement around this. It came out really suddenly through a facebook post, I understand, yesterday – and it was implemented as of yesterday.

“The word that some parents have used that I completely agree with, is ‘callous’.”

She said the move flew in the face of the Enabling Good Lives approach, which the previous government had planned to roll out nationwide.

“That approach is all about increasing choice and control for disabled people about the services and supports that they access. This is reducing flexibility and choice.

“This whole conversation about the Enabling Good Lives appropach and the shift towards more flexiblity started 20 years ago … successive governments have been implementing parts of that, we had committed to extending the support … we were going to extend that to two more [sites] and extend it further.

“I’ve heard the comment that this is taking us back 20 years to the start of that, and I worry that it is.”

She said there would always be limits to what could be provided, “but what I’ve seen through the EGL approach when I visited sites and spoke to people who’ve been through the pilot sites for example, is that the supports they can access are less prescriptive”.

Labour’s leader Chris Hipkins said it was further proof Luxon and Willis could not make their numbers add up, and the move showed disabled people would be the ones paying the price for the government’s fiscal incompetence.

“During the last election campaign Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis repeatedly assured New Zealanders that their numbers were rock-solid, they all added up and they knew how to do numbers – yet day by day we see further evidence they didn’t know how to do their numbers, their numbers didn’t add up and ultimately it’s New Zealanders who are going to pay the cost of that.

“The latest group of New Zealanders to pay the price is our disability community who are having their entitlements cut because the government – despite saying they weren’t going to cut frontline services – seem to be doing exactly that.”

He said the government was not being clear about the changes being made, but they were clearly “already impacting on frontline service delivery”.

“I understand one of the changes they’ve made is to more rigidly apply spending caps, when previously a needs-based assessment was determining what level of support was provided.

“Arbitrarily capping support where there is a greater need than the cap allows for is ultimately going to leave the disability community worse off.

“The most vulnerable New Zealanders are the ones who are going to pay the price for this government’s fiscal incompetence … I think it’s offensive to the disability community to say that cutting their entitlement to support is just a matter of swings and roundabouts.”

Finance Minister Nicola Willis said no changes had been made to the Disability Ministry’s funding settings, and the government was not looking to cut entitlements for disabled people.

“We are not campaigning, we are not looking to cut any existing entitlements of people with disabilities,” she said.

Deputy leader of the National Party Nicola Willis

“We’ve put a proviso that Whaikaha, which is the ministry for disabled people – any savings they make in their back office will be put back into their frontline, because we realise there are significant cost pressures for that agency and actually they’ll need more funding in order to meet those.”

When asked about the changes to eligibility criteria, she said “you’d have to ask the minister about that, we haven’t made any changes to their funding settings”.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon also denied cuts were being made and said they had not broken their promises.

“Those are decisions obviously for the department and for the minister. What I’ll just say to you is it’s wrong to characterise, it’s wrong to characterise that we are actually … we are not cutting services. We are making sure that departments generate savings that can be redeployed from the back office to the front line.

“We are designing a Budget that’s designed to give people tax relief to make sure we end wasteful spending and importantly protect frontline services.”

Asked specifically about the changes to the disability funding, Luxon also referred it to Simmonds.

“You need to talk to the minister about that.”

Disability Issues Minister Penny Simmonds is expected to be available to answer questions on the matter this afternoon.

Radhakrishnan said Simmonds should be front-footing the matter more.

“It’s the way that it was communicated as well. I mean, firstly I don’t think she should have signed off on these cuts in the first instance, but she should be front-footing it, I haven’t seen that anywhere.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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