22 Jun 2021

ACC law biased against those disabled before injury, agency's analysis reveals

4:48 pm on 22 June 2021

ACC law is biased against people who were disabled before being injured, analysis by ACC shows.

ACC Building

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

RNZ revealed yesterday that ACC analysis showed the scheme is biased against women, Māori and Pasifika.

In its fourth briefing paper on how ACC treats "priority populations" to its Minister Carmel Sepuloni, ACC said people left disabled by injury are treated far better and paid more compensation by ACC than those who are born disabled or become so through illness.

"Rehabilitation provided by ACC (which comprises treatment, social rehabilitation and vocational rehabilitation) is available to ACC claimants on an entitlement basis, unlike Ministry of Health-funded services for disabled people, which are rationed," the paper said.

It also found injured disabled people who needed help because of that injury had to juggle the ACC and welfare systems at the same time, which often treated them very differently.

"Compensatory entitlements available to some ACC claimants are non-means tested and often more generous than benefits and entitlements provided by the Ministry of Social Development."

An example of this was how ACC clients under age 18 were compensated if they were left unable to work by an injury.

"They are able to receive weekly compensation at a more generous rate than the Supported Living Payment available to disabled people who are supported by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)."

However, those who were disabled already prior to being injured were less likely to receive ACC compensation, because they were less likely to be in paid work, the paper said.

Disability Strategist Sacha Dylan said such inconsistencies had been highlighted by the disability sector for "many years".

"That loss of potential earnings subsidy is interesting, because it's young people who haven't actually had a job. It's ACC's way of trying to say, well, if they did have a job, how would we assess the potential earnings? And of course, it's like 80 percent of the minimum wage, which is a lot higher than the benefits that disabled people can get paid through."

It was also "fundamentally wrong" to have two systems treating disabled people in different ways, because of the way they became disabled, Dylan said.

"That someone can be lying in a hospital ward, with, say, cancer on the spine, that's given them an equivalent kind of impairment to somebody who is in the next bed who's hurt themselves playing rugby or something … one of them will get a lot more help from the government than the other.

"That's just fundamentally wrong. Because the whole idea of having disability supports, it's meant to get people to be able to contribute to their fullest potential."

National Party ACC spokesperson Simon Watts said the government should close the gaps for disabled people, not only with ACC, but across government agencies.

"Where there is opportunities to improve the ACC system, and in particular, in this case around the support that they provide for disabled people, then ACC should be looking at closing these gaps."

Watts did not, however, believe a separate "Māori ACC" should be created to address the inequalities faced by Māori in accessing the scheme, as suggested by Māori health advocate Lady Tureiti Moxon.

"National supports a unified ACC system and we oppose any separate ACC systems being set up. But I think we would acknowledge that ACC is not perfect, and the reports have cited that not only in aspects around Māori, but also for women".

It was worth "investigating" whether birth injuries should be covered by the scheme, Watts said.

ACC legislation has been criticised for allowing cover for sporting injuries but not birth injuries.

Auckland University economics professor Susan St John said it was time the ACC scheme underwent a "radical overhaul".

"ACC has really become riddled with so many anomalies and unfairnesses that it really does need to have an overhaul. It's 50 years since it was first conceived by Sir Owen Woodhouse. We haven't had that major review and asking the question 'is it still performing well?'."

Carmel Sepuloni, who is also Minister for Social Development and Disabilities Issues, did not think a radical overhaul of the scheme was needed, but some changes were likely.

"What we want to do is make sure it works for all New Zealanders. Some of the statistics that came back that the media have now seen, that I've commissioned, shows that actually there are some differences with regards to how groups benefit from the system. So I don't know if that requires an overhaul, or let's just get in there, make some changes."

What those changes are remain to be seen, but Sepuloni said she had requested policy advice on including birth injuries in the ACC scheme. She had also asked officials for more information about the inequalities facing women, Māori, Pasifika and disabled people.

However, establishing a new Māori ACC was not on the cards, she said.

"That's not a consideration that that we have, I just want to make sure that the ACC we want to make sure that the ACC system is working for New Zealanders."

She was also waiting for the health and disability review under way to be completed before looking further into how ACC supports disabled people, and wanted to improve data collection on disability issues.

"Government-wide there is lack of quality data regarding disabled people. As Minister for Disability Issues, I am focused on working with my ministerial colleagues on how government can collect better data about the experiences of and outcomes for disabled people to inform our policies. This is certainly a discussion I've had with ACC."

ACC had been "proactive" in addressing inequities through its Whaia te Tika strategy, Sepuloni said.

"This strategy is relatively new but is showing a lot of promise - for example, by making available to claimants through ACC.

"We need changes that address the inequities, better communications to ensure different demographics are aware of the support available to them and better coordination with the health system to ensure all New Zealanders can access ACC.

"While this is a significant body of work, I don't believe it constitutes a full overhaul of the system. ACC is an internationally recognised scheme and one that works well overall.

"However, it is not perfect and where we see issues such as inequities we need to address all of them so that the scheme can be improved for all New Zealanders."

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