We got it wrong on disability announcement – Minister Penny Simmonds

Whaikaha, the Ministry for Disabled People has done an inadequate job in conveying changes to disabled people’s funding, Minister for Disability Issues Penny Simmonds says.

The ministry has unveiled changes to purchasing rules for disabled people’s equipment and support services.

Labour’s Disability Issues spokesperson Priyanca Radhakrishnan said funding was effectively being cut, the changes reduced flexibility and choice and took the sector back 20 years.

Some feared they couldn’t afford to pay for caregivers to travel with them for work and shopping.

However, Simmonds clarified on Morning Report on Wednesday the cuts would not affect those travelling within their community.

She realised there was concern disabled people were worried they wouldn’t be able to pay mileage to carers taking them shopping or on other activities “but that’s not the intention at all”.

The confusion arose because the ministry announced funding will no longer go towards domestic and international travel.

She had spoken to some ministry staff on Tuesday about the need for better communication.

The method – a Facebook post – was an attempt to convey information to everyone in the disabled sector at the same time.

“I absolutely accept that we haven’t been clear enough and that people don’t want to see things on Facebook to find out the information.”

It was a new ministry that had only existed for 18 months and was lacking “depth of experience”, she said.

“We have to learn from this.”

The cutbacks announced this week were nothing to do with the government’s calls for a reduction in public sector spending.

She said the changes were necessary because there used to be no flexibility around individualised funding but during the Covid-19 pandemic flexibility was relaxed.

“Now we’re saying we need to recalibrate that and bring it back so there are better guidelines, better criteria, better regulations.”

The budget had been overrun with more than $104 million spent on purchasing items so rules needed to be tightened.

“We do have to get rules in place that ensure that funding is going to the person with the disability. That is not diminishing in any way the role of the carers.”

While carers had been able to spend money on respite care that would no longer be allowed, she said.

At this stage, she was not blaming the ministry’s chief executive for the cost overruns.

Simmonds said funding should not be cut for noise-cancelling headphones and iPads – despite many in the disabled sector now believing they have been excluded.

‘A scary time’

Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said it was “appalling” there was no consultation with the wider disabled community.

“The last two or three days our inboxes have been flooded with people wondering what to do next so it’s a scary time for them.”

He said people in the autistic community needed time to absorb the impact of significant changes and do some planning for what they would spend their funding on but that had been taken away from them by the way the changes were announced.

He was concerned funding would cease for noise-cancelling headphones which were essential for many people with autism, who depended on them to prevent sensory overload and be able to function in a social situation, he said.

Another item that might be axed was iPads which were helpful in their learning among other uses.

“It seems very short-sighted to not be able to fund that … it’s a massive impact on that child and the family.”

The ministry has been under pressure with its budget and while Dougan expected some review of costs, those working in the sector were best placed to advise on how to save money.

“I accept that it’s pretty tough out there but let’s work through this together and as a community, come up with a solution that’s not going to negatively affect an entire population of people.”

‘Simmonds should apologise’ – Hipkins

Labour leader Chris Hipkins hit back at Simmonds’ comments about consulting with the disability community after implementing the changes.

He told Morning Report those caring for disabled people did not deserve to be “kicked around by the government”.

“Penny Simmonds should apologise for some of the comments that she’s made about the disability community in the last 24 hours. It’s just wrong.”

Hipkins said the disability community had been under-supported for generations.

“The fact that we did something about that as a government is something that I’m very proud of.

“And if it is ending up costing more than we had originally budgeted, then the government do need to find a way of supporting that rather than trying to cut the support.”

Simmonds was informed about the funding shortfall in December, Hipkins said, and it was the government’s fault.

“The disability support that we are talking about is far from generous,” he said.

“If there is more demand for disability and the planning isn’t there for the budgeting support because there are more people with disabilities and needing more support than initially estimated, then we have to find a way of paying for that.

“Simply saying that ‘there are too many people ahead you in the queue, therefore you miss out’, isn’t actually right.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button