Disability advocates unsure if Wellbeing Budget will deliver for community

6:31 am on 30 May 2019

Disability advocates aren't holding out much hope today's Budget will deliver the wholesale changes they are hoping for.

Ralph Broad is the founder of the Local Area Coordination Network in England and Wales.

Ralph Broad Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

But at the Disability Support Network's annual conference at Te Papa in Wellington, delegates heard about overseas projects designed to get disabled people into the community, build independence and save money in the long term.

Ralph Broad is the founder of the Local Area Coordination Network in England and Wales.

Launched in 2010, it now operates in 14 counties and employs a person in each area who has good connections in the local community, who helps up to 200 people each month who have a disability, mental illness or are older.

The coordinator works with these individuals to build capacity and resilience, or if someone falls into a crisis they are there to help. And it's a programme that's saving money.

"The most powerful thing is can we come alongside people early? Can we help them to build their confidence, their connections, their valued roles within community and with the community as well, to help them to not need, or to reduce their need for services?" he said.

"People are choosing to use services less, this isn't a rationing process, this is a building resilience process. Anything you do to save money, causes harm," Mr Broad said.

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Cesilee Coulson Photo: supplied

Cesilee Coulson is from GoWise Seattle, the NGO in Washington in the US, which has helped get more than 80 percent of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into work, many are being paid on or above the minimum wage.

Here the rate is about 15 percent.

She told delegates she came from a place that believed anyone could work.

"I've never been anywhere, I've gone to a meeting like this or a conference where they've said, 'we have so much money, we don't know what to do'.

"So, we all start from the same place, a place of scarcity. Yet we work on one piece of the cultural spectrum that allows us the most independence - and that's work. Once we get a job, what we like to say back home is, 'now I have multiplied my choices to be in the community," she said.

That's a dream scenario for advocates.

Disability Support Network chief executive Garth Bennie said Washington's success was the result of year-on-year investment in staff who were very good at getting people into jobs.

"They can create employment opportunities that employers didn't know they had, for individuals that your typical employee would never ever have thought or considered as an employee. We don't invest in the workforce to anywhere near where we need to," he said.

Dr Bennie said today's Budget was critical for the sector.

But given the demands on funding, he wasn't expecting it to deliver a sustainable long-term solution.

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Carmel Sepuloni Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Instead, he hoped today's Budget would provide some interim relief, allowing the ministry to embark on some long-term work on what was morally acceptable, ethical and reasonable in terms of levels of support for disabled people and their families.

"What we don't want is a programme of work that attempts to co-opt providers, disabled people and families into a discussion about restraint, national consistency, and expectation. That dresses up the unacceptable into a more palatable language, that drives us to be part of a narrative that asks us to accept a scenario where we are more equally underfunded or undersupported," he said.

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni admitted progress had been slow, but was tight-lipped about what might be in the Budget admitting the timing of her speech wasn't great.

"I actually should have said 'how about we do it on the 30 May in the afternoon', when I would have been able to be a little bit more open about the government's plan for disabled people and the disability sector. So just excuse me if I'm a little bit vague today, but I'm sure our government doesn't want to see any leaks," she said.

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