Every year, IHC monitors the rights of disabled people by tracking government action. Overall, people with intellectual disabilities in New Zealand continue to be treated as second class citizens. They are still dying younger, experiencing worse health, being denied basic rights and being discriminated against. We’ve got a big job in 2020 to encourage the government to make rights real for people with intellectual disabilities. We have graded the government in the following areas.
Children and young people
Sadly, a failing grade for this topic. More attention needs to be paid to children with disabilities. Waiting lists for early interventions have grown and children wait up to 170 days for early intervention. This is despite the Ministry of Education’s intention to recruit more staff. Children with disabilities were not incorporated into every aspect in the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, only piecemeal mentions. No specific actions were detailed that will reduce poverty for children with disabilities. The government completed some good work on the inclusive Early Learning Action Plan, but increased funding that would allow children with disabilities to use their 20 free ECE hours is still sadly lacking. Oranga Tamariki’s National Care Standards reflect the importance of children and young people in out of home care, including those who are disabled, having a voice in all matters relating to their care.
Areas of improvement: Next year, we would love to see some more commitment from the government in the areas mentioned. We would also love to see families of children with disabilities be given a place at the table to have input into policy.
There is a failure to understand and implement Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – the right to be treated equally under the law and the right to have support to make your own decisions. This is a critical right for people with intellectual disabilities and is strongly linked to their enjoyment of other human rights, so this impacts adversely on their daily lives. There has been little progress in implementing the recommendation from the UN Committee that New Zealand moves from a substitute decision-making model and law (Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act (PPPR)) to legislation that requires a supported decision-making in law and practice. Currently there is no monitoring of court-appointed roles, nor mandatory training, for lawyers, judges and doctors involved in making decisions that have the power to strip away people’s personal agency implementing the PPPR Act. The legal and practice frameworks do not align with contemporary beliefs, attitudes and research evidence on capacity, personal agency and decision-making.
Areas of improvement: The planned review of the PPPR Act provides a great opportunity for government and legal professionals to understand Articles 12 and 13 of the UNCRPD and consider how they could be better reflected in New Zealand law and practice.
There has been some good work this year in education. Most of the recommendations made by the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce were accepted by the government. There is a lack of visible linkages between the Learning Support Action Plan and other reform workstreams within Ministry of Education. There is still no legislative underpinning to inclusive education, but more work is planned for 2020, so we are hoping to see the government display their understanding of Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Some groundwork has been laid to collect more accurate data about students with disabilities through the Te Rito student information sharing system. It is hoped that Te Rito will accurately detail accommodations that need to be made in the New Zealand school system to ensure that education becomes more accessible. Despite this good work, an independent review body to decide and moderate complaints made about schools is still not in place. The Ministry of Education has started work on a body to work on these complaints, but it does not appear to be independent.
Areas of improvement: A review of the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) in 2020 is also thought to be an area of potential for the government to demonstrate understanding of, and commitment to, inclusive education.
People with intellectual disabilities are a priority population group for Ministry of Health, but IHC is unsure what benefits this status brings. There has certainly been no progress or plans to improve health outcomes for this group of New Zealand citizens despite a Disability Action Plan focus. People with intellectual disabilities are still dying 30 years earlier than the general population, and there is no accurate data collected on the cause of death. There are emerging concerns that current disability support assessments do not respond to chronic health issues.
Areas of improvement: It’s hard to narrow down to one area given the total neglect shown by successive governments in addressing this, but an increased understanding of how to demonstrate valuing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and their rights to healthcare would be an important start. IHC has all the information needed to produce a “death by indifference” report. We wait with anticipation and hope the investigation currently being carried out by the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, will create the impetus needed for the government to act with certainty.
Children and young people with disabilities and their families have been included in poverty reduction and welfare reform. Despite Consumer Price Index adjustments to Supported Living payments, there appear to be no plans to increase the basic benefit rate or the child disability allowance. Legal action prodded the government to make policy changes to allow people with intellectual disabilities to access their KiwiSaver earlier than other groups given their reduced life expectancy. The Bankers’ Association, in collaboration with sector representatives and IHC, has produced guidelines to help banks meet the needs of older and customers with disabilities. These guidelines have resulted in individual banks improving accessibility.
Areas of improvement: 2020 should bring increases to benefit rates to ensure sustained poverty reduction.
People with intellectual disabilities are visible in employment strategies, but this has not fed into more people with intellectual disabilities being employed. There has been some good work on Employment Support Practice Guidelines, a Disability Confident campaign, and some guidance for employers who are employing people with disabilities. We might have to use a wait and see approach to see whether the government is developing the most effective strategies to increase employment of people with intellectual disabilities.
Areas of improvement: We need to see more jobs for people with disabilities.
So far there has been no targeted programme to ensure supports and accommodations are in place for intellectually disabled people interacting with the justice system. There have been some small victories, including information in a benchbook and some progress with Police changing their interviewing practices after involvement with IHC.
Areas of improvement: 2020 would be a good year to start capturing and reporting on the number of people under 18 held under the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act and the number of protection orders sought on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care, and in the care of faith-based institutions, also holds great promise to shine a light on abuses that intellectually disabled people have suffered. Also, to put in place accessible oversight and complaint and redress mechanisms to ensure and strengthen freedom from exploitation, harm, violence and abuse.