The National Party has led the New Zealand Government over the past few years and, of course, are running in the elections (held this upcoming Saturday, yes that means these political posts will be finished soon!) to retain that leadership position. In this post I am going to summarise their disability policies (including welfare, education and other policies where relevant), with a particular focus on how they will impact autism families like my own.
One of the most attractive points I found in their policy, was a focus on giving disabled people the ability to choose for themselves how best to spend the funding they receive. Currently, the funding received is mostly pre-packaged, with not much in the way of choice about who helps you and how. National has been piloting programs over the past few years to change that set-up.
One approach they’re using, monitoring for success, and hoping to extend, is the increased freedom to spend that money, aided by the support of “Local Area Coordinators.” Local Area Coordinators help the disabled figure out how best to meet their needs with the resources available to them. This makes the funding more personalised and flexible. 1000 people have been given access to personal budgets / individualised funding, so they can choose what’s best for them.
For those of us who have been ever-frustrated by the lack of coordination between the various branches of government involved in our families’ lives when it comes to disability support, the National Party is developing a “one-stop-shop” needs assessment agency approach, which brings together disability, health, welfare and housing; with the intention of creating better and more efficient services.
National will be changing the welfare category for those who are permanently and severely disabled. They will also be changing its name, from the “Invalids Benefit” to “The Supported Living Payment.” The new category comes with no expectations that the person will work, but comes with a financial incentive for those on it who decide to take up work.
As to education, National supports special education, pointing out that it boosted it to the tune of $51 million, importantly creating an additional 2100 places for pupils in special education. There is always plenty of rhetoric about how arbitrarily limited the funding scheme is for special education, so extensions to those numbers is a relief for many desperate families.
National wants to combat bullying; which also frequently affects autistic children, particularly in the mainstream schools. They’ve put $60 million towards this goal. They’re also providing $36 million to fund intervention for students who are identified as “falling behind” (which, again, will frequently include our children).
National also points out that it has put $100 million extra into disability services since 2008, and have dedicated an extra $130 million to these services for the next four years, including funding to help disabled people learn skills to assist independent living. This independent living theme is repeated in another area of their disability policy too: National intends to give up to 150 people who are currently living in residential care, the opportunity to live in the community with support, using a pilot scheme called “Choice in Community Living.” This program gives access to personal budgets so those involved can organise their own housing and living arrangements. I have often heard complaints that autistic adults end up at residential facilities when they could have and would have preferred to live independently or in more appropriate settings, if only they’d been granted the proper support to do so. Hopefully this new scheme will make inroads on that issue.
In general, National says it wants to encourage those with disabilities to be involved in their decision-making. This theme is pretty clear across their disability policy.
National also supports better attitudes towards the disabled, with the establishment of a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner, and funding for the “Be Accessible” campaign (to the tune of $4 million), which promotes positive attitudes towards those with disabilities.
For more information on their disability policies, I – as always – encourage you to click-through on the links I provided at the start of this post. National is the only Party I have found so far that actually provides examples, numbers, and monetary amounts alongside its policy (and not just the monetary amounts from their past term in parliament either; they provide projections and examples of how things would change too). So it’s worth clicking through if you want to have a more detailed look.
Overall I found National’s Policy quite encouraging from the perspective of a mother currently raising an autistic child. I didn’t get the impression that I’m going to have a fight on my hands to retain the services and funding my son currently receives, and I liked the idea of increasingly individualised funding, and support towards independence. It actually made me feel much more positive about my son’s future post-secondary-school. There is plenty there to upset families too of course: such as the continued existence of National Standards and the view that this negatively impacts on the disabled; and those currently concerned about the closing of various special units that have been in the media lately, probably won’t be comforted. But National doesn’t appear to be stagnating or going backwards on the disability issues; it’s bringing in new initiatives and appears to have a quite positive attitude towards the disabled and the support for the disabled.
As usual, I end by saying:
Please note, I’m not endorsing voting for National, and I am not a member of National, or indeed any other political party. No one has asked me, or paid me, to write these posts. If I become aware of National 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.”