Disability Welfare Reform

Is the Disability Allowance outdated?4 min read

7/2/20 3 min read

Is the Disability Allowance outdated?4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My name is Thishni De Silva, and I’m interning at CCS Disability Action as a Policy Analyst Intern. I’m passionate about making a difference. So, when I came across some shocking Disability Allowance statistics, it made me want to write a blog because all disabled people should receive the same amount of financial assistance.

Disabled people need more financial assistance. This is because disabled people face extra costs in their daily lives. They also tend to have lower incomes. Because of this, the New Zealand Government pays the Disability Allowance to eligible people.

The allowance helps with the costs of medication as well as hospital and doctor’s visits.

So, you would think because it’s New Zealand and it’s 2020, everyone would have the same access, the same amount of allowance and that bias would not exist here, right?

Yet, the data we requested from the Ministry of Social Development shows some shocking statistics. The amount of allowance is very different for people based on their ethnicity. Māori, Pasifika, and other ethnicities get less than disabled Pākehā.

People receiving the Disability Allowance aged 18 to 65

Māori Pākehā Pasifika Other Unspecified
Average weekly rate $19.42 $22.79 $14.68 $19.56 $18.99
Median weekly rate $9.95 $13.68 $6.25 $9.80 $9.60
Number of
25,066 52,577 5,355 16,599 2,802

The graph above shows that Pākehā receive more from the Disability Allowance than Māori and other ethnicities. While Pākehā receive $22.79, Māori receive $19.42, and Pasifika receive only $14.68.

It is also worthwhile to examine how Māori are being disadvantaged in terms of their income.

This data shows that personal income for disabled Māori is low, with 64% earning less than $30,000, compared with 56% of all disabled people earning less than $30,000.

The Government has legislated the Disability Allowance to reduce barriers for disabled people, particularly barriers to healthcare. This makes the inequality in the Disability Allowance even more concerning as more Māori and Pasifika have unmet needs for primary healthcare because of cost and transport barriers – the two areas that the Disability Allowance is meant to cover.

Another troubling statistic shows the number of disability allowances given out to different ethnic groups. For the working-age population, which is people age 18 to 65, Pākehā received 52,577 disability allowances while Māori received 25,066 and Pasifika received only 5,355. To put this into percentages, Māori received 24% of the disability allowances, Pasifika received only 5%. All other ethnicities received 16% and 3% were unknown. Yet, Pākehā received 51%.

Then why do Pakeha get more financial assistance than Māori? One could argue this reflects the population of New Zealand. Yet, the disability rate is higher for Māori. In the 2013 Disability Survey, after adjusting for age, Māori had a disability rate of 32%, Pasifika had a rate of 26%, and Pākehā had a rate of 24%. Māori and Pasifika are also more likely to live in poverty, which means they should be more likely to qualify for the Disability Allowance because the allowance is income tested.

Maybe unconscious bias plays a role in this inequality. Maybe Māori and Pasifika are less likely to be told/ know about the allowance or are less likely to be supported by their GP to apply for higher amounts, or do not have higher amounts approved by Work and Income. The Disability Allowance, which was enacted in 1975, has not been signifcantly updated since and it does not reflect our current diverse society.

If the Government is maintaining an outdated system that gives out unequal financial assistance to different ethnicities, it is unfair. All disabled people need equal access to financial assistance regardless of their ethnicity. We need to be more aware of the inequality that is being experienced by Māori, Pasifika, and others. Having an outdated system which provides more money to Pākehā than other ethnicities shows bias.

The solution to this predicament is to redesign and modernize the system so that it works for everyone in our society. We need to recognize that this affects a lot of people. Therefore, updating the policy is long overdue. Modernizing it means giving out the same amount of allowance to every person who has a disability. People’s ethnicity should have nothing to do with how much they receive because at the end of the day all disabled people face barriers in life. As we begin this new decade, it is our responsibility to advocate for systems that support all people equally. Hence, we need to push the government to change its outdated policy, so the Disability Allowance becomes more accessible for everyone.

Thishni De Silva