By Chris Ford*
Opinion - The 2021 Budget last week almost missed disabled people out entirely. While the Budget had some really good initiatives for disabled people, the vaunted benefit increases, while very welcome, have come too late.
Why do I say this?
To start with, let's look at the increases. These rises, while well overdue, have come too late in terms of the continuing rise in living costs, particularly around rents. Statistics show that disabled people are more likely to be renters and also more likely to live in damp, cold and mouldy housing. Therefore, this necessitates increased heating costs and if facing other disability related costs around, for example, additional medications then the extra $23 per week - and that's before tax - for an adult single person on Supported Living Payment would simply be swallowed up by them.
Adding further insult to injury is the fact that neither the Disability Allowance nor Child Disability Allowance have been increased at all. This is particularly galling given recent Statistics New Zealand figures showing that 1 in 5 disabled children live in households where there is material hardship. Disabled adults don't fare any better either given what I've stated above about extra costs and given that there are no changes to Temporary Additional Support payments which many beneficiary households receive.
Therefore, a significant number of beneficiaries - including disabled people - may not see the full promised increases at all.
I also wonder about the announced increases in funding for disability support and the time being taken to implement the Enabling Goods Lives (EGL) principles around the country. While any increases in funding for disability support such as, for example, household support (which I receive) are good, I really seek to question as to whether the extra $100 million will go far enough at a time when the disability population is growing. My key question is: will the disability support deficit of the same amount be eliminated? That's a question that will only be answered when the actual spending starts.
Also delaying implementation of the highly praised EGL principles across Ministry of Health funded disability support services is very frustrating. These principles have enabled disabled people and their families to have more control over how their disability support is delivered allowing, for example, people to use their funding to support their taking up dance lessons or other community activities. The early EGL pilots in MidCentral, Canterbury, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty have all gone really well and many disabled people and their whānau are now awaiting system transformation in the rest of New Zealand. Funding has been committed to undertake work on a nationwide roll-out, but the key question remains as to when this will happen.
Speaking of other things that are taking an eternity to come about, the Budget also didn't cover the need for more modified, accessible housing from Kainga Ora and on how ever-rising housing costs should be tackled. I believe that the best way to tackle surging demand is to institute a mass state house building programme with 100 percent of new builds being designed to universal accessible design standards alongside temporary rent controls for private sector housing. None of these things were dealt with extensively in the Budget.
I could go on, but I will highlight the one really bright spot for me in that my colleague and friend Mojo Mathers' original bill providing financial support for disabled candidates at Parliamentary elections was finally funded to the tune of $3.31 million. This will enable a new generation of prospective disabled politicians to stand for election to Parliament where our voice is needed more than ever.
Indeed, our voice as disabled people will need to be elevated around this and future Budgets to ensure that we receive our fair share. Otherwise, we will continue to figure at the bottom rather than at or near the top as we should be.
* Chris Ford is a Dunedin-based freelance writer and researcher. The views expressed in this piece are his own.