When is a win, a loss? Why the NZ Govt is under attack for its Bill on paying family carers

You may recall the case that was fought and won against the New Zealand Government, forcing the Government to accept that it should have been paying family members to care for their disabled children. In response to the case, the Government went through a public consultation to find out how best to meet their duties to this group of people. I made a submission as part of that consultation (and wasn’t too impressed with the process itself), and have today received an email with a link to find the summary results. That, and the brief news coverage that payment for family carers was part of the 2013 budget, left me feeling quite positive about how things were moving along: The Government was accepting its responsibilities and acting quickly to meet those responsibilities.

By Velvet Android, via Flickr

Oh how wrong I was.

It didn’t take long for radio, television, and online news media, to pick up the growing outrage at how the Government has chosen to meet these obligations. At first I was a tad bewildered at the response; why was everyone so upset, surely this was a step in the right direction? The more I researched, the more I came to understand that it was more like a wriggle of a toe in the right direction, with a blockade to prevent any further advances. I’m going to help you understand why, because it took me a while to get my head around all of this too.

First, and not surprisingly to anyone with previous knowledge of this case, the Government has read-down the Court’s decision to its smallest subset of applicable families and disabled people who can receive the support. (To briefly clarify, the support at issue is when non-family members are paid for care of the disabled, but family members were barred from receiving the payment for providing the same care, details are in my original post if you need them). That small predictable subset, is that the relevant disabled individual must be an adult; caring for disabled children who are not adults, are excluded. But it doesn’t stop there, of course…

The number of people who can come in under the scheme is limited to the 1600 who have “high or very high needs.” This is a tiny proportion of the disabled population in New Zealand. The payments are also blocked for spouses or partner’s of the disabled person. But it doesn’t stop there…

The payments they are entitled to receive when looking after their disabled adult children, is equal to the minimum wage. Which is to say, the family members will be receiving about half of what non-family members get paid for the same work.

So far we have limited numbers who can apply, limited people who can receive it, and half the pay if they do qualify. (And god only knows how many will ever access the funds depending on the bureaucracy built around receiving payments, I understand there are already serious concerns in this area.)

But it’s not finished with you yet, and here is where it gets dodgy.

The legislation granting this payment scheme was passed under urgency, without going through the full process of public consultation. It should already be obvious why the public might have liked to be consulted on the specific parameters and propositions at issue. It was dealt with under urgency as part of a set of Budget relevant Bills, but it doesn’t take effect until October 1st, so there should have been ample time to go through the necessary steps. As the Labour Party’s Annette King states: “Why is it being put through with such haste? It does not come into effect until October 2013 – can they count how many months away that is? Could it not have gone to a select committee for a while?

However the devil is in the detail, and the detail here is nasty: The legislation also blocks any future actions against the Government for not meeting their obligation under the Bill of Rights Act, in relation to “a provision of the Bill, or by a family care policy.” It expressly leaves the Bill Of Rights Act toothless against the issues in the Bill, by stating that Courts and Commissions cannot take any cases or complaints about any such discrimination, and for those cases already under consideration on the issue, the most the Court or Commission can do is declare that the policy in question is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act… and that’s it. Really, that’s it. (For what it’s worth, as I understand it, that does not apply to the specific case that lead to the government introducing the Bill in the first place.)

(Note, this is my understanding of the operation of the Bill from both reading commentaries and from reading the Bill itself, if you think my understanding requires refining or clarifying, please do help me out here.)

The Attorney-General has spoken out against it, saying it breaches the Bill of Rights Act. The Labour Party, The Greens and New Zealand First have all publicly spoken out against it too. A powerful quote from Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty, is worth sharing:

This is vindictive, unfair and what’s more, it is setting up a new level of complexity – and these people have been though enough. Sometimes, Mr Chair, people’s hopes are broken by life and sometimes by legislation. And this is one of these times.”

I want to end with a quote from my own post on the consultation process that lead up to this Bill, because what has happened was foreseeable at that point: “I’m not convinced that the Government has appreciated the gravity of what they were doing wrong and how many lives it was ruining, neither am I convinced that their consultation will churn out a better future for these individuals and their families. I very much would like to be wrong.”

I wasn’t, and the outcome was so much worse than I thought it would be.

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12 Responses to When is a win, a loss? Why the NZ Govt is under attack for its Bill on paying family carers

  1. Hilary says:

    It passed through all its stages in less that 24 hours – which is a really flawed way of making law. This vindictive legislation was supported by the Maori Party and United Future who didn’t need to vote for it. The Minister for Disability Issues from the Maori Party can surely see how mean and nasty it is and such a bad way to do legislation for such a vulnerable population. it reminds me of the educational National Standards legislation which also went through all its stages in 24 hours in 2008 without going to a select committee where they could have considered some of its pitfalls, and there have been endless problems since. Now this joins the long list of legislation that will be have to be addressed when the government changes next year. It is such a slap in the face to those families who fought for a decade through the courts to be paid to care for their disabled family member, and diminishes those disabled people requiring care, as well as all those who participated in the consultation process. All the limits are so petty such as the maximum being 40 hours. So what does the disabled person do for the rest of the week? Also wastes resources on a rigid, outdated and expensive NASC eligibility process. Sorry about the rave but I feel so angry about the incredible disrespect the government and support parties have shown to the sector with this new legislation.

  2. Linda says:

    In Massachusetts, USA, we have a program called Adult Family Care. Parents of disabled people over 16 years of age receive a daily stipend to keep their loved ones at home. The payment amounts to either $9,000 or 18,000 a year, depending on which level of care the participant requires. This is tax-free money in addition to whatever they earn outside the home. It may also amount to minimum wage, but I’ve never heard anyone complaining that they’re not getting paid enough to care for their own child…
    A person who is a legal guardian or spouse cannot receive payment, as they are already considered legally responsible for that person’s care. In addition, disabled individuals receive free health care, a monthly payment from social security and usually a paid day program where they can work or just participate in day habilitation, and often paid respite care to get them involved in community activities and/or give their carers a break..
    Someone who is under 18 years old also receives many of these services. It costs the state and our nation a lot of money.

    • Linda, please read my original post on the court case to understand why this isn’t as simple as “wanting more money.” This is about discrimination, in relation to a specific group of funding, where the government was happily paying for total strangers to care for the adult child, but if a family member had to do the work or was better suited to the work, the government was refusing to pay them just because they were related. It really is not a simple matter, and there were a range of legal arguments involved. It came down to a matter of it being discrimination, and the government’s response has ignored the serious implications of the discrimination and what was happening to these desperate families.

      • nostromo says:

        Well I would agree with you that from the perspective of the parents, and anyone else with a skerrick of understanding that it isn’t as simple as “wanting more money” however from the Govts perspective I think it pretty much IS about that – another stream of ongoing expenditure that they have been trying to avoid if at all possible. Parents have been looking after their grown up children at home, and thats been quite convenient for the Govt(s).

    • nostromo says:

      On the topic of costing a lot of money, I saw an interesting breakdown of our nations spending the other day. Some figures as a percentage of the total:
      These are what I think of as Disability related:
      Disability assistance (not sickness): 0.47%
      Invalids benefit: 1.62%
      Sickness benefit: 0.95%
      National Disability support: 1.26%

      Less than 5% in total.

  3. Angela says:

    I share your outrage! Good post ! When I think what it costs to have someone in a residential facility how dare the families of our precious disabled adults be fobbed off in this way. In all reality most families don’t keep their adult disabled children at home with them so it’s not like they will have hoards of people beating down their doors to be paid. I am also very suspicious of this push towards Enhanced Individual Funding and Enabling good lives new proposals. while on the face of it the rhetoric sounds fantastic that disabled adults and families will have more choice, the reality is the onus still falls back on the family to facilitate this AND far less money is going to be given directly to families than they currently pay to residential providers. How do you choose a “good life” if you are living in poverty? Grrrrrr…

  4. Rosemary mcDonald says:

    As a society we are judged on how we treat our most vulnerable…our children, our disabled.

    Nothing in the budget to REALLY address the effects of child poverty….and the rights of the true dregs of our society…the ‘crippled and retardted’ are removed.

    God defend New Zealand…

    One third of the Regulatory Impact Statement was redacted…blanked out. One third. How is it responsible democracy, to vote under urgency, to breach the NZ Bill Of Rights, with only 2/3 of the information considered to be relevant to the issue available to elected members???

    The RIS is a mushroom document…darkness and bullshit.

    I knew the new policy would continue to discriminate, but even I am shocked at the lenghts the Ministry has gone to to put disabled and family carers in their place.

    The Government obviously believes it can get away with this.

  5. Wife of Jack says:

    It’s no surprise the outcome of this is less than appealing. The government was dragged into this kicking and screaming. Why should they pay for the most undervalued and under represented section of society when they have got away with it for so many years? The bit about paying parents half of what an employed carer gets and the bit about not paying for spouses to do the same. It’s shameful. Crumbs that’s all. Scraps from the table. It makes me so angry.

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