Hot Issues April 2016

Hot Issues is an electronic newsletter produced independently for the IHC advocacy team. The newsletter covers education, current political developments, submissions, family concerns, disability topics and events.

Subscribe here to receive our monthly IHC Hot Issues newsletter via email.


Inside Hot Issues:

  • Challenging the Minimum Wage Exemption
  • Will the CYF review improve the lives of disabled children?
  • Are schools ‘demonising’ children with challenging behaviour?
  • Join the Conversation to update the New Zealand Disability Strategy
  • Will revised New Zealand Health Strategy benefit people with intellectual disability?


Challenging the Minimum Wage Exemption

New Zealand law used to assume that disabled workers were not as productive as non-disabled workers. Therefore they were seen as not as valuable to employers. Because of this, our system rewarded those employers who took on disabled workers. Employers could pay disabled staff less than the minimum wage for their hours of work through a system called the Minimum Wage Exemption (MWE), a law which remains in force today.

But the assumption that disabled workers are second class employees contradicts the modern environment of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which requires disabled people to have the same employment rights and conditions that non-disabled workers access. The old assumption also contradicts a growing body of evidence that disabled workers are, in fact, valuable employees. The Government’s latest Disability Action Plan intends that the Minimum Wage Exemption will soon be phased out, a policy that is supported by IHC Advocacy.

The historical context is relevant in understanding how the current situation arose. For much of last century disabled people, particularly those with intellectual disability, were locked up in institutions, and denied many of the basic aspects of citizenship such as access to family life, independent living, education and employment. The activist parents who in 1949 founded the organisation which became IHC, challenged that situation. They wanted education for their children, and community support and employment for their adult disabled children.

In response the idea of ‘sheltered workshops’ developed whereby disabled people could live in the community, such as in hostels, and work in businesses or workshops with other disabled people. These enterprises were run by organisations including IHC. Full payment for the work was not seen as important as the adults received a weekly disability benefit with sometimes a small top up payment. The 1960 Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act (DPEP) legitimated these sheltered workshops in what was then seen as progressive legislation.

In 1983 the Minimum Wage Act allowed exemptions for general employers, so that disabled workers could be employed in regular businesses for less than the minimum wage. However, the disability rights and self-advocacy movements were gaining momentum and by the beginning of the 21st century workplaces or factories of disabled workers receiving only token payments were regarded as discriminatory. If an employer could employ a disabled worker this way, why would they bother employing them on proper wages?

After a long battle between owners of some sheltered workshops supported by some parents, against disability advocates and their politician allies, the DPEP Act was repealed in 2007. It was expected that the remaining sheltered workshops would then close. Some transitioned into social enterprises and others became vocational centres. However, employers could still make a case for a Minimum Wage Exemption on the grounds of lesser worker productivity under the 1983 Act.

By October 2015 there were still over 800 Minimum Wage Exemption permits in place. The system is now administered by the Labour Inspectorate at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. The PSA and other unions have long campaigned against the exemptions on the grounds that they exploit workers.

Now the Ministry of Social Development is seeking to end the scheme as it is not in line with the CRPD in treating disabled people differently from other workers, and for focussing on the deficits not the abilities of the disabled workers. The UN Convention recognises the right of people with disabilities to make a living from work freely chosen in a labour market and a work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible.

Some employers with a large number of exemption permits say their businesses would not be viable without them. The Ministry is offering to work with those businesses and the disability sector for possible solutions such as wage subsidies, greater use of employment supports and possible apprenticeship and training schemes.

A significant principle to consider is the right for everyone to sell their labour or work to an employer for a fair price. Otherwise it should be considered voluntary work without obligation. Unpaid work experience or internships have an expectation of an eventual paid job. But that is not the situation for many of those on the MWE. One solution could be for the government or local council to give some seed funding to an enterprise and subsidise wages on the expectation that the business will stand on its own feet before long and pay proper wages.

This is an area where IHC has changed its view over time. It supported and ran some sheltered workshops when they were an innovative alternative to institutionalisation. But it now supports the UN CRPD and the right of workers to wages and conditions that other citizens enjoy. However, many IHC parents want somewhere safe and social for their adult children to go each day and see the current system as fulfilling those needs. So this change can be hard for some parents particularly when other employment initiatives or day programmes in the area might be scarce. The impending end of the Minimum Wage Exemption raises several urgent questions.

  • Should businesses profit from paying their disabled workers less than the minimum wage?
  • How can we provide quality jobs for real wages in our local communities in the 21st century that recognise the abilities and rights of disabled people?
  • What options can we provide as a society for the participation of disabled adults in the community?

Government wants minimum wage for disabled workers Radio New Zealand

Minimum wage exemptions for people with disabilities Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment


Will the CYF review improve the lives of disabled children?

Following an official review, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, has announced a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family (CYF). The new system will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service. The intention is that there will be a single entry, child-centred model with a focus on early intervention and prevention of harm and trauma. Five significant aspects of the reform include:

  • Direct purchasing from the private and community sector of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child and this might come from multiple agencies
  • A stronger focus on reducing the over-representation of young Māori in the system.
  • Raising the age of state care to a young person’s 18th birthday, with transition support being considered up to the age of 25
  • The establishment of a youth advocacy service to hear the voices of children and young people
  • More support for caregivers and the introduction of National Care Standards.

IHC Advocacy, CCS Disability Action and the Human Rights Commission are pleased that the reforms include the repeal of Sections 141 and 142 of the Children, Young Persons and the Families Act. Sections 140, 141 and 142 of the Act deal with extended care agreements for children. These agreements are full-time, time limited, out-of-home placements for children. They are used when a family, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide care for their child so the child is placed elsewhere for an extended period of time. Placement can be in a foster family or a residential home run by an organisation. For non-disabled children these agreements are usually for no more than a year.

However, Sections 141 and 142 only apply to disabled children. Under Section 141 disabled children can be left in foster or residential care indefinitely, and a family can choose to leave their child in a residential home until they reach adulthood. The disabled child has no say about this and is not provided an independent advocate to speak on their behalf, as non-disabled children are. The result has been children growing up in residential or foster homes. Families are often forced into this situation because of a lack of local support for them and their child.

Additionally, children with disabilities are over represented in New Zealand’s most vulnerable populations and in CYF care. They are more vulnerable to abuse, more likely to be in state care and are often living in poverty, than non-disabled children, a situation that has gone on unchallenged for many decades.

IHC has been lobbying for years for the same care and protection for children with disabilities as others under the care or protection of the state. They hope that disabled children and non-disabled children will now be treated equally under the Act. IHC’s position has remained unchanged for nearly 70 years - disabled children belong in their families and families should be well supported in their role with access to what is needed for a good life.

There are still some questions to be answered about the CYF review.

  • There are concerns about what will be cut from other government departments such as Corrections, Health and Education to fund these changes.
  • There is a suggestion that special education services will be moved from the Ministry of Education and its functions placed under a new agency, and what will this mean for disabled school children?
  • There are also concerns that more services will be contracted out which could lead to more fragmentation of services, worse pay and conditions for professionals as organisations seek to maximise profit.
  • There is the possibility that big overseas companies such as Serco might win contracts to work with some of our most vulnerable young people.

Some people are asking why not invest more money and resources in the government’s own agencies and workers to do a better job and help CYFs get its own house in order rather than privatising services?

So are these changes really going to make a positive difference to vulnerable disabled children?

The expert panel’s final report and relevant Cabinet papers  Ministry of Social Development

Radical changes to child protection and care Beehive

Finally an equal right for children with disabilities IHC

Planned repeal of act pleases disability organisation CCS Disability Action

We have failed our disabled children: time for bold action Human Rights Commission

'Who kicks their child out at 17?' - Govt raises age of care amid radical overhaul of CYF Stuff

CYF reform: Moving from 'we must do something" to 'are we doing the right thing?' Pundit


Are schools ‘demonising’ children with challenging behaviour?

IHC Advocacy has warned that children who have special educational needs risk being negatively labelled by the system as ‘too bad’ to be in school. All children have a right to education and preventing them from attending school is not fair. Yet many schools are illegally stopping children from attending class, saying they don't have the specialist support to deal with their behaviour. Both the teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, and IHC agree that schools often do not have sufficient specialist support to teach some disabled children.

But the Ministry of Education says that such cases are very rare, although they were currently trying to resolve a situation in Paeroa where a nine year old boy was suspended from school last year and no school will yet take him without more resources to help manage his behaviour.

A Ministry spokeswoman said “schools should talk to the Ministry if they were concerned about the level of support a child requires”. She said that the Ministry would intervene if children were denied their right to an education, as no school is legally entitled to turn away a student with a disability or special educational need, and that they never give up on any child.

Like their teachers, parents of children with diverse education needs say they're not getting enough support in school. A new survey of 100 parents with children in mainstream education by parental support group Mothers' Helpers, also claims a lack of resources, and lack of specialist knowledge, with only 29 saying their child was “well-supported”. The survey backs up one by the NZEI earlier this year, which found 90 percent of schools' special needs coordinators don't think they're getting adequate support from the Government.

Other findings from the Mothers' Helpers study include:

  • 43 percent of special needs students don't have an individualised education plan
  • 41 percent of parents don't think their kids' teachers are trained in dealing with children with special needs
  • 34 percent of kids who need a teacher aide don't have one.
  • Of the special needs coordinators schools do have, the earlier study found two-thirds don't have the time or resources to do their job properly.

How can we work together to resolve this situation?

Schools 'demonising' difficult children - IHC Radio New Zealand

Kids with special needs missing out, say parents  News hub

Disabled children law change needed - Human Rights Commission Human Rights Commission


Join the Conversation to update New Zealand Disability Strategy

Over 1 million New Zealanders or about 1 in 4 people, is limited by a physical, sensory, learning, neurological, mental health or other impairment. The 2001 New Zealand Disability Strategy was the first government-wide policy to address the needs of disabled New Zealanders. The government has now asked the Office for Disability Issues to develop a new disability strategy to provide direction for the next decade. A reference group, including disabled people and others from the sector, has been meeting for the last few months and now the public is being asked for input. This consultation, called “Join the Conversation” will continue until 24 May. They are asking people to tell them what the most important things are for disabled New Zealanders and their whānau to live a good life, to feel valued, supported and able to participate in their communities.

People can join the conversation by attending an event, holding a workshop, recording a video or filling out a survey to help shape the new strategy. A draft document will be released in August, with the final strategy to be launched in late 2016.

Public meeting dates and venues are:

02 May Palmerston North Time: 1pm – 4pm Venue: Copthorne Hotel 110 Fitzherbert Avenue

03 May Dunedin Time: 10am – 1pm Venue: Blind Foundation Corner of Hillside Road and Law Street

04 May Hamilton Time: 10am – 1pm Venue: Distinction Hamilton Hotel and Conference Centre 100 Garnett Avenue Te Rapa

09 May Christchurch Time: 9am – 12 noon Venue: Commodore Hotel 449 Memorial Ave

11 May Wellington Time: 9am – 12 noon Venue: Te Papa Tongarewa 55 Cable Street

18 May Auckland Time: 1pm – 4pm Venue: Potters Park Events Centre 164 Balmoral Road Mt Eden

19 May Auckland Time: 9am – 12 noon Venue: Waipuna Hotel 58 Waipuna Road Mt Wellington

20 May Whangarei Time: 10am – 1pm Venue: Forum North Conference Centre 7 Rust Street

Join the Conversation Office for Disability Issues


Will revised New Zealand Health Strategy benefit people with intellectual disability?

A new New Zealand Health Strategy has been launched, updating the last one from 2000. It covers five strategic themes for the next decade - people-powered, closer to home, value and high performance, one team, and smart system. It includes a roadmap of actions to put the Strategy in place over the next five years. To support the Strategy’s implementation, the Ministry of Health is currently reorganising the way it operates to ensure clearer roles and accountabilities, and reduce duplication.

The Strategy states that disabled people generally experience worse health than the rest of the population. The IHC is pleased to see that action is being taken to improve the health of people with intellectual disabilities in the Strategy which has recognised that people with intellectual disability are a priority population group when it comes needing access to quality healthcare.

Trish Grant, Director of Advocacy at IHC says, “People with intellectual disability can expect to live 18-23 fewer years than the rest of the New Zealand population. IHC has advocated over many years for actions to address the disparities in access to healthcare and in health outcomes experienced by people with intellectual disability. As a population group people with intellectual disabilities experience high levels of unmet health need, high rates of polypharmacy and difficulties in being included in health promotion activities and screening programmes. It’s been a long time coming to get a commitment to undertake this work. We look forward to this being translated into meaningful and sustained changes so that all New Zealanders get well, stay well and live well”.

Ongoing monitoring by those with intellectual disability and their families will be needed to ensure progress.

New Zealand Health Strategy launched Scoop

NZ Health Strategy promises a better deal Scoop

New Zealand Health Strategy 2016  Ministry of Health