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Whanganui and Ruapehu advocates slam Ministry of Disabled People funding changes

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Julian Emmett said changes to disability funding had been announced without consultation or consideration for those affected.
Photo / Bevan Conley

Whanganui disability advocates have slammed the Government’s changes to disability funding.

The Ministry of Disabled People announced this week new limits on what disabled people can buy with their funding.

Julian Emmett of Whanganui, who was born with cerebral palsy and has been a long-time advocate for disability access, said he was appalled to learn via social media about the allocations.

“It seems that these changes have been made without any consultation with the disability sector,” he said.

The ministry, which commissions support services for about 50,000 people and funds equipment for around 100,000 people, said there would be changes to the way equipment such as wheelchairs and home modifications were prioritised.

Disabilities Minister Penny Simmonds said there would not be a reduction in funding and the aim was to focus on the needs of people with disabilities.

“Some of the funding has been going to carers – that has to be pulled back and prioritised to the disabled person,” she said.

Simmonds agreed iPads and other items were useful purchases for children with autism.

“But we have got such broad criteria at the moment that the funding has also been used for massages, overseas travel, pedicures and haircuts for carers.”

She indicated that the funding decisions could be temporary while new funding criteria were established.

Emmett said he was unsure how the changes would affect him personally.

“At the moment I’m more concerned about caregivers of children with disabilities and how they will be affected,” he said.

“I don’t know how the ministry could have arrived at their decisions without adequately consulting the people who will be affected.”

Emmett said the move “flies in the face” of the increased choice and control people had achieved in spending their support funding under an approach known as Enabling Good Lives.

Enabling Good Lives (EGL) was developed in 2011 to underpin a new approach to disability support. The vision has been for disabled children and adults and their whānau to have greater choice and control over their supports and lives.

Whanganui’s EGL network co-ordinator Sue Kenny said the minister’s comments about pedicures and massages were misleading.

“Carers can pull muscles or strain their backs lifting a disabled person so massage treatments are therapeutic rather than luxuries,” said Kenny.

“And the pedicures were more likely podiatry or professional foot care for a disabled person in someone’s care.”

Kenny said the changes to funding criteria did, in effect, amount to a reduction as the pool of money would not increase to accommodate more people needing support.

“There is a big pushback against these changes because it affects around 20 per cent of the population and when you add families and carers, you’re talking about a lot of people.

“I hear the minister has back-tracked on some of the changes but we wish she would just leave it as it was because things were going well and some real progress had been made since EGL was introduced.”

Ngā Waihua o Paerangi Trust pou ārahi (chief executive) Helen Leahy. Photo / Ngāti Rangi
Ngā Waihua o Paerangi Trust pou ārahi (chief executive) Helen Leahy. Photo / Ngāti Rangi

Ngā Waihua o Paerangi Trust chief executive Helen Leahy said the iwi authority for Ngāti Rangi was appalled at the “pejorative attack” on carers from the Minister for Disability Issues.

“For the minister to publically state that carers had been taking advantage of funding to use public money ‘for massages, overseas travel, pedicures, haircuts’ for themselves is both irresponsible and undermines the vital work that whānau members give, day in, day out, to support tangata whaikaha to live their best life,” Leahy said.

“In a rural community like Ruapehu, where respite care is extremely limited, the social return on investment of carers in our community is substantial. Through our Forget-me-Not initiative which supports whānau members who face health or social challenges, we appreciate the unstinting sacrifice and dedication of carers who do so much to support their loved ones”.

Leahy said the possibility of funding restrictions for equipment such as wheelchairs and home modifications was of great concern.

Emmett said he also wanted clarification on how those funding allocations would be affected.

“I have a good mobility scooter that enables me to get where I need to go,” he said.

“The question is – would I be able to get one now if I needed it?”

Liz Wylie is a multimedia journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. She joined the editorial team in 2014 and regularly covers stories from Whanganui and the wider region. She also writes features and profile stories.

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