Disability Government Policy

Disabled People and the Covid-19 Pandemic4 min read

24/4/20 3 min read

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Disabled People and the Covid-19 Pandemic4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We are currently coping with the most serious health crisis in living memory. A crisis that will have a disproportionate impact on disabled people. So, what is the government doing to support disabled people?

When researching this topic, I found three main things that the government is doing to make sure disabled people are being supported.

Firstly, making information readily available and in different forms. The government has worked hard to make information readily available and in different forms for the general public as well as people with disabilities.

The way the government has made information accessible is:

  1. Use sign language interpreters in press briefings.
  2. Created easy read resources.
  3. Created audio resources.
  4. Working to disseminate information over the phone. 

The government has also personalised information for disabled people. However, many disability advocates say that the government needs to improve and increase how they are providing up to date information to disabled New Zealanders. They also believe the government needs to “double down” on providing the disabled community with the tools they need to ask for help during this time.

Secondly, access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for support workers and family members that are caring for a disabled person. This is a serious issue. There are many news stories by support workers and family members that discuss the lack of PPE gear for them. On the 31st of March the Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that the government was beginning to release large numbers of masks from New Zealand’s national stockpile to DHBs. Then the DHBs could distribute them in their regions to frontline health workers such as support workers.

But in fact, the guidelines that were released by the government following this large distribution of more PPE gear showed that support workers were going to get virtually no PPE gear. As the table below that was released by the Ministry of Health shows.

Table information:

For people who do not have COVID-19, and are not in 14 day isolation; standard precautions are still required as per normal practice.

The table indicates the following information:
People who are immunosuppressed need hand hygiene but not surgical mask, n95/p2 mask, eye protection, gloves and fluid resistant gown or plastic apron.

People providing non-contact cares need hand hygiene but not surgical mask, n95/p2 mask, eye protection, gloves and fluid resistant gown or plastic apron.

People providing cares that may involve exposure to body fluids, secretions, excretions, touching oral mucosa or medication assistance need hand hygiene, gloves and fluid resistant gown or plastic apron but not surgical mask, n95/p2 mask or eye protection.

Because of this some organisations have started supplying their own PPE gear, that goes beyond the minimum standards. For example, CCS Disability Action in Timaru prepared PPE packs for their support workers which contained some informative pamphlets, gloves, and face masks.

Thirdly, to help support disabled people during this time the government has increased benefits, which came into action on the 1st of April. The Government also announced an extra $27 million in funding for essential services.

To ensure that essential services will continue throughout the lockdown of that $27 million:

  • $16 million was used to bolster essential social sector services delivered by NGOs so they can continue to support people.
  • Up to $6 million was used to fund disability community participation providers to put in to place appropriate health mitigations
  • Up to $4.8 million was used to provide community grants or fund innovative community lead solutions to support local resilience

The changes the government has made to benefits are:

  • Deferring the need to provide subsequent medical certificates for people already getting the Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, Supported Living Payment, and Child Disability Allowance.
  • Deferring any Disability Allowance reviews.
  • Delaying any Annual Reviews. 
  • Deferring any new obligation failures.
  • Clearing any 52-week reapplications for people getting Jobseeker Support or Sole Parent Support.
  • Extending the period that Temporary Additional Support is granted for.

On the 1st of April all main benefits were increased by $25 per week. For couples, the increase was $25 in total.

The income after tax applied to:

  • Jobseeker Support
  • Sole Parent Support
  • Supported Living Payment

As a side note this increase to benefit to payments might affect some other payments such as Temporary Additional Support, Accommodation Supplement and Childcare Assistance. But the total amount people get from the government will not be less than what you were getting before the 1st of April.

The Winter Energy Payment has also been doubled in response to Covid-19.

  • For single people with no dependent children it is now $40.91 a week
  • For couples, and people with dependent children it is now $63.64 a week

The government has really made some good steps towards supporting disabled people during this time. Like anything there is certainly room for improvement, especially in making PPE gear available for support workers.

We will continue to watch this space with interest!