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When is a subsidy, not a subsidy? Carer Support

Carer Support allows the unpaid carer of a disabled person to take a break. The carer is given a small payment by the government that can either be used to pay someone the carer knows, including some family members, or a formal provider to give temporary support to the disabled person. Sounds pretty simple and, in fact, Carer Support dates back to 1975.

Unfortunately, the exact status of Carer Support payments has been an on-going issue with disagreements between government departments about whether the payment should be taxed, whether it affects the relief carer’s benefits and whether an ACC levy needs to be paid. Even within government departments there has been disagreement and inconsistency. The lack of consistency has discouraged plenty of relief carers from wanting to provide support for a Carer Support payment.

Part of the issue is that the Ministry of Health has sometimes, but not always, called the Carer Support payment a subsidy. The payment is not meant to pay the full cost of getting a relief carer and it is set at a lower rate than the minimum wage. The carer is meant to top-up the payment, if needed.

The Ministry of Health saying the payment is a subsidy, however, does not necessarily make it so. While the Ministry allows carers broad freedom to chose relief carers, once a relief carer is chosen, there are requirements and rules for that relief carer.

The Ministry of Health has a responsibility to provide disability services and a relief carer providing carer support helps the Ministry meet that obligation. The relief carer is providing a paid service for the Ministry, under the Ministry’s terms and conditions. The fact that the payment goes through the carer does not matter. That is an employment relationship, the relief carer works for the Ministry.

Last Monday, the Employment Court found exactly that for one, Ms Lowe. Ms Lowe had worked as a relief carer, from time to time, since 1994. The Court looked at whether her work fell within the definition of homeworker under the Employment Relations Act.

The Court found that while the Ministry of Health used the term subsidy in some of its documents, the term subsidy did not recognise the reality of the arrangement. Ms Lowe was effectively paid to provide a service and this payment was on the basis of an invoice. The Court also noted that the Carer Support Guidelines, the document which provides the most comprehensive description of the Carer Support arrangements, does not refer to Carer Support payments as being a subsidy.

Although at the moment the case just applies to one worker, the Service And Food Workers Union has indicated that it will use the judgement to challenge the Ministry of Health further. The Employment Court also considered the case significant and appointed three judges to hear it. A possible outcome of this case is that relief carers providing Carer Support may now qualify for the minimum wage. The Ministry of Health has yet to respond, however.

As a broader issue, there are several other areas of disability supports and allowances, where the Government talks about providing a contribution or just recognising an issue. Does the government providing part payments, subsidies or contributions really fulfill its obligations to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity?

One Response to “When is a subsidy, not a subsidy? Carer Support”

  1. You have nailed the issue. In the past managers at the Ministry of Health insisted to me that it wasa contribution. I have asked rooms full of people how many of them added their own perosnal money to it- not one.
    Not surprising really we know that large numbers of disabled children grow up in single parent benefit dependant homes.
    There is no spare cash floating around when you are on a benefit raising kids.
    The assumptions made and the ignorance of Ministry officials about the lives of disabled children and their families is astounding.
    Families want to be funded so they can make decisions about what will work best for their situation. For some it will be time out, for some respite, for some it might be some technolgy or home appliance that will make life easier. Let families make those decisions and get the government out of their lives like everyone else.

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