30 Apr 2024

New minister announces review into disability support services funded by Whaikaha

3:48 pm on 30 April 2024
National MP Louise Upston

Louise Upston took over the role as Minister for Disability Issues last week. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

New Minister for Disability Issues Louise Upston has announced a review into the support system funded by Whaikaha, the Ministry of Disabled People.

Upston, who took over from Penny Simmonds last week, said the review would look at what could be done to strengthen the long-term sustainability of Disability Support Services.

It will consider the purpose of different funding streams and their flexibility, eligibility for support services, and interactions between Disability Support Services and other systems such as health, welfare, and education.

"Since coming into office we have received worrying advice about the risks inherited by the ministry when it was set up less than two years ago, and whether it was adequately equipped to manage them," Upston said.

"Crown expenditure on Disability Support Services, adjusted for inflation, has roughly doubled since 2005-06. The ministry now funds services for approximately 50,000 disabled people and equipment modification for approximately 100,000 people, administering an annual appropriation of $2.3 billion."

Labour leader Chris Hipkins admitted there was more demand than his government budgeted for.

"It was a relatively new system, and so we put what we thought was a reasonable budget to meet the demand but the demand was obviously higher than we had previously budgeted for. That's a sign that there was a lot of unmet need in the community amongst people with disability and that's certainly something I think the government needs to prioritise this budget round."

He believed the government should simply increase the ministry's funding.

The ministry has been under fire for not consulting with carers before changing entitlements to flexible funding support.

In March, it unveiled changes to purchasing rules for disabled people's equipment and modifications supports and services.

A three-person panel will be appointed in the next few weeks, and the minister expects it to report back within four months.

The panel will consider:

  • The purpose of different funding streams within Disability Support Services and the appropriate level of flexibility for each.
  • Eligibility for Disability Support Services, with a focus on entitlement to and allocation of funding.
  • The capability and processes that need to be in place within the Ministry of Disabled People - Whaikaha to manage Disability Support Services, including for risk management, commissioning, and organisational form and structure.
  • Interactions between Disability Support Services and other systems (including health, welfare, and education).
  • The legal framework for Disability Support Services.
  • Stakeholder relationships.

Disability support organisation Disability Support Network said the review would expose the significant pressures the sectorwais facing.

Chief executive Peter Reynolds said the organisation welcomed the review after being underfunded for a decade.

The sector would need a 10 percent increase just to meet rising costs, and a 24 percent increase to make up for the historic underfunding, Reynolds said.

It was ironic the review's terms of reference had not been consulted on by people in the sector, he said.

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