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Petition highlights funding cuts

Hundreds of Masterton residents are supporting a disabled community leader’s call for the sector to have more say over recent government funding changes.

Peter Knighton is the Masterton president of People First, a disabled people’s organisation focusing on rights for people with learning disabilities. Knighton is also a kaituitui [or weaver who stitches together many threads of knowledge in their community] for the Disabled Persons Assembly of New Zealand.

The 48-year-old has been disabled most of his life. He has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, asthma, and osteoporosis.

Riding up and down Queen St on his mobility scooter, Knighton has collected more than 300 signatures in just over two weeks.

The petition follows a government decision last month to change purchasing rules for certain categories of funding affecting disabled people- many of whom found out via a Facebook post. The changes came into effect immediately.

Whaikaha – The Ministry of Disabled People, announced the decision and has published explanatory notes on its website.

“These changes do not change the amount of funding that is allocated to disabled people, just the way it can be used.”

Sector spokespeople expect some caregiver support funding to be most affected.

“Sign this petition to support people with disabilities to be involved in decision-making that affects their lives,” says Knighton’s petition, which far it includes the names and contact details of about 320 signatories.

Knighton estimates about 500 Wairarapa residents could be affected by the funding change, a figure that includes the disabled people themselves, and their families.

A statement from Whaikaha – The Ministry of Disabled People said at the time of the funding announcement that it faced increased demand for support, some of which was not related to supporting those with a disability themselves.

“We need to develop the criteria to ensure that support goes to those most in need. We will do this in consultation with the community over the coming months,” it said.

Knighton said those affected need to be included in future decisions.

“I think they should have consulted us before they did it – consulted us and given us fair warning,” he said.

“People are angry and disappointed. Give us our funding back and include us in decision-making.”

He said a major fear for the sector is that, without extra help for caregivers, more families will be forced to turn to residential care as the only option for their disabled relatives.

“Some families will have no choice if they [Whaikaha] don’t reverse their decision.”

A spokesperson for Whaikaha acknowledged the depth of feeling in the disabled community about the changes made to the flexible funding.

“We also acknowledge how difficult these changes will be for some families,” the spokesperson said, adding that the organisation is working through questions and feedback, with regular updates made to the ministry’s website to provide clarity to those affected.

People are encouraged to check the Whaikaha website for updates, or to contact their host, provider, national assessment service coordinator, or Enabling Good Lives site with individual questions.

The spokesperson said the cost of delivering disability support services has increased and the organisation needs to take a balanced and fair approach to funding, and stay within budget.

“We need to ensure our funding is directed at the person it is meant for, and prioritised to those that need it the most.

“Whaikaha will work with the disability sector and the community to determine how we can retain as much flexibility as possible, while ensuring our funding is being allocated equitably and within the purpose for which it is intended.

Knighton intends to continue collecting signatures and will give the petition to local MPs to present at Parliament when it is complete.

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