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Shadow cast over disability

Wairarapa disability support service providers are in shock as they deal with the implications of the funding changes announced earlier this week by the government.

On Monday, the Ministry of Disabled People, Whaikaha announced the changes to its purchasing rules and equipment modification services, with many of those affected finding out via a Facebook post. The changes appear to come into effect immediately.

Joanna Scott is the community service coordinator for the Masterton-based Wairarapa branch of national organisation CCS Disability Action [CCS].

The organisation supports more than 100 disabled people across the region, not all of whom are expected to be affected by the funding change. Their range of disabilities includes autism, intellectual disability, physical disability, and impaired vision and hearing.

An upset Scott described to the Times-Age how she felt when she first came to learn about the funding change on Facebook.

“It was complete disbelief,” she said.

“It was a real shock. I don’t think any of us saw it coming. There had been no indication that there would be a complete reversal of the flexibility that had been given for utilising funds.”

Scott said the sector had not been consulted.

“Where is our voice in this? Where is our choice in this?”

Scott said she had been fielding large numbers of calls from local people concerned about what the changes mean.

“There is now fear that further changes are going to come from this.”

The Minister for Disability Issues, Penny Simmonds, yesterday announced no disabled person will lose access to funding for essential services, equipment, or support, “The changes that the Ministry for Disabled People, Whaikaha is making, are simply about ensuring the funding allocated to disabled people is actually being used for that purpose,” Simmonds said.

However, Scott said the changes may take important choices away from disabled people and their carers that could impact their quality of life, and noted there is uncertainty about what funding people will be able to access.

“You go through an assessment process and are given an allocation of funds. People have it, and now they feel like they can’t use it.”

Scott said CCS believes disabled people and their whanau should have full flexibility over what they can use their funds on.

“They should have full control and choice. We use the enabling ‘good lives’ approach in the way we deliver our service.”

This approach is a foundation and framework to guide positive change for disabled people, families, and communities.

A ministry statement has explained that demand for disability support services, and the cost of delivering them, is under pressure.

“This has meant we are already forecasting an overspend in this financial year, which ends on 30 June,” it said.

“Whaikaha is making changes to its purchasing rules to clarify how people can use their disability support funding. The purchasing rules describe what disability support funding can be used to buy when using individualised funding…

“Changes to the purchasing rules does not reduce the amount of funding that is allocated to disabled people [or carers], however they make clear what can be purchased, with the aim that every dollar spent generates the maximum possible value for disabled people.”

IHC New Zealand has also expressed dismay about the changes.

“How do disabled people live their lives when the Government presses pause?” IHC director of advocacy Tania Thomas asked.

“This is effectively a cut into their quality of life while enabling Whaikaha to draw down on the unspent funding packages. To all intents and purposes, it looks very much like a cost-saving exercise,” she said.

“The system isn’t perfect; however, hitting pause like this means people don’t know how to live their lives today, tomorrow and next week. It’s no way to live.

“Whaikaha has set up a number of consultation groups, and yet for a decision like this that impacts so many people’s lives there has been no discussion.”

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