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.
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.
Relevant news stories / press releases / posts:
- Law Discriminates Against Disabled Adults and Family (Press Release, New Zealand First Party, May 17th 2013, scoop.co.nz)
- Labour criticizes “shonky” process to pass carers’ bill (Radio New Zealand News, May 17th 2013)
- Not for profits suspicious of government decision to pay family carers (wecare.org.nz, May 17th 2013)
- Budget 2013: Family caregivers will get minimum wage (May 17th 2013, NZ Herald)
- New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (No 2).
- Making sense of the New Zealand Court of Appeal decision on paying parents as carers (my post, May 15th 2012)
- The consultation on paying family carers to provide disability support; why I am not impressed (my post, Oct 12th 2012)