NZ Labour Party’s Disability Policy (particularly as relevant to autism families).

The Labour Party is one of the two major Political Parties running in this year’s General Election in New Zealand. There’s a lot of information about their disability / autism-relevant policies, drip-fed over the past few months. I’m going to begin with a quick summary of the main sources I am using for this post, and then try to bring the information together, with a focus on autism as usual:

  • Labour have only recently released their disability policy, which can be found in detail here (pdf), and can be found summarised more generally on their own website here.
  •  Labour took part in a public meeting about a month back, where Political Parties were invited to share their disability policies. At the time Labour han’t released their policy but still managed to respond to various concerns raised about current disability issues. A summary of that meeting’s discussion can be found here.
  • Labour was one of the few Parties to respond to Autism New Zealand’s questions posed a month or two back, about autism specific issues heading into the election. Their responses can be found here (pdf).

The Labour Party has adopted a motto for their view on disability services, that many of us in the autism community are already very familiar with: “nothing about us without us.” This rhetoric overseas has become associated with shutting out or downplaying the voices and concerns of those raising and caring for the disabled, and the interests of the disabled who are not able to advocate for themselves (usually the same group relying on those parents and carers), in preference for the perspectives of those who are less disabled. But the general emotion and intent behind the phrase is admirable, and the choice of phrasing doesn’t seem to indicate the introduction of the same issues seen overseas. Indeed, the Labour Party expressly says it is interested in protecting the health and well-being of family carers, and support the family unit.

In its main disability policy, the Labour Party does expressly mention autism. They are concerned that the current criteria for disability services and support, is written in such a way that often excludes those with autism. This is a well-known problem within the autism community, sometimes with dire consequences for the child and their entire family, so it is good to see the problem directly acknowledged.

The Labour Party shows a high level of awareness of other concerns directly affecting the autism community too. Including the disparity of support between those who come under ACC and those who do not (the “do nots” being the group autism falls under, and the comparatively less generously funded grouping); concerns about inadequate provision of carer support and respite care, and lack of payment to relatives who currently supply free respite care; and inadequate training of mainstream teachers for dealing with our children.

Labour supports early intervention, and make the observation that health and education needs for our children, are often not coordinated (aint that the truth).

Labour does strongly support “inclusive” education, but recognises that for this to be a reality there would have to be changes to the funding mechanisms currently in place in mainstream schools, and adequate support in meet the goals set forth in IEPs (turning “it would be great if we could” into “we actually have the resources to make this happen” (my words, not theirs).) This favouring of inclusive education does not seem to go hand-in-hand with wanting special needs units or schools to shut down, since their spokesperson at the meeting mentioned earlier in this post, expressly said they support the special education units. Labour also says it will “review” the funding for physiotherapy and occupational therapy within schools.

Labour also rejects the National Standards introduced by the current government, which have been a real concern to many families with autistic children. Labour wants to redirect the resources associated with implementing National Standards, into supporting the students who are “under-achieving” (which, depending on what precisely qualifies as under-achieving, probably encompasses special needs children).

Labour also wants to support the disabled into work, which is another special area of concern in the autism community. There is a lot of rhetoric throughout the disability policy, about increasing the involvement of the disabled in the community, and supporting the independence of the disabled.

On the whole, the policy shows a high level of awareness of the concerns that affect disabled families, including specifically autism families. The Labour Party clearly wants to increase the amount of people who qualify for government services and support in the disability sector, and increase the actual funding available to those who qualify too (often by redistributing, or reorganising the administrative structures that dole out, those funds).

There really is a lot of material available on Labour’s disability attitudes and policies (though, like most of the other Parties, not much in helpful detail). So I do encourage you to click-through on the links provided at the start of my post, if you want to get a fuller picture of where their priorities lie as a Party.

As usual, I end with my standard disclaimer:

Please note, I’m not endorsing voting for Labour, and I am not a member of Labour, or indeed any other political party. No one has asked me, or paid me, to write these posts. If I become aware of Labour introducing any major changes to their policy relevant to autism pre the election, I will add it as a dated edit under this paragraph. I welcome feedback from any and all parts of the political spectrum to this and the other Election 2011 posts I shall be doing, which will all be filed under the category “NZ Elections 2011; Autism.”

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