News and opinions on disability
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Immigration and disability revisited

18/2/16 · Posted in fairness, Immigration, valuing people

Sam Murray, our National Policy Coordinator, talks about New Zealand’s immigration policy and the value disabled people add to our whole community.

I have written in the past on immigration and disability. New Zealand’s current health criteria confuse illness with disability and have a simplistic view of costs. It is also harder under current law for disabled children to get residency than disabled adults. This can end-up seeing whole families/whānau having to leave because they have a child with a disability, as happened recently with a Mathematics Professor. Currently, we are turning away whole whānau that could make a significant contribution to New Zealand because a family member has a disability. Yet disability and impairment are far from uncommon, even amongst children.

Part of the problem is how we think about cost and disability. Disability, and by extension disabled people, are still often associated just with cost, particularly cost to the government. We often overlook the value and benefits that disabled people bring to society, communities and whānau.

It is always important to emphasise that the majority of working-age disabled people are in employment. An estimated 355,000 working-age disabled people are working part-time or full-time (Almost 61 percent of all working-age disabled people). More disabled people could undoubtedly be in work if government and business more seriously tackled access barriers and discrimination.

Allyson has said in a previous blog that there is far more to contributing to society, communities and whānau than just paid employment (although being paid is generally nice). Communities and whānau themselves measure the value people add to their lives. Most people in our lives add value far beyond any job they have. After all, not everything that counts can be counted, especially not in terms of money. People’s presence, their unpaid support, their companionship and their smile, can all add value to our lives. This ties into a second problem, we tend to think about disability and disabled people in individual terms.

Disabled people are part of whānau and communities. When disabled people are treated unfairly and/or their rights not respected, it does not just affect them, but also their whānau and communities. Our current immigration law demonstrates this in a clear way. Disabled people are the ones targeted by the health criteria in our current law. Yet the whole whānau is affected. The whole whānau has to give-up on their dream of living in Aotearoa.

New Zealand’s immigration policy should reflect the values of all New Zealanders, especially our views on fairness. Based on the media coverage the health criteria keeps getting, I doubt this is currently the case. I think we need to take a broader view of the costs and benefits a whole whānau could bring to New Zealand and not get fixated on a family member’s disability. We also need to recognise that disabled people add a lot of value to society sometimes through paid employment, sometimes through other ways.

More generally, I think we need to recognise that policy decisions about disabled people affect not only disabled people, but also whole whānau and communities.

5 Responses to “Immigration and disability revisited”

  1. Great article, I really like the statement “After all, not everything that counts can be counted”.

    • Thanks Pamela, it is actually a quote from an academic, who studied human society, called William Bruce Cameron. The full quote, which is from 1963, is:

      “It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

      See this link for more information:

  2. Liz Church says:

    I agree Sam – as you say “I think we need to take a broader view of the costs and benefits a whole whānau could bring to New Zealand and not get fixated on a family member’s disability”. The government takes such a narrow view beginning with an assumption that disabled people are a burden to society. This is definitely a human rights issue and sets the tone for a non-inclusive New Zealand. The ‘trickle-down’ effect may be a misnomer when it comes to sharing wealth but it comes into its own when the powers-that-be reinforce misinformation and prejudice!!

    • Too right, Liz! That terrible “b word” (burden) seems to be the starting point for how a lot of people still think about disability.

  3. A national campaign promoting policies to break the link between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.

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