Politics’ straight from the horse’s mouth!7 min read
Nick Svensen, our Policy Analyst, shares his summary on the different political party policies in the lead up to the upcoming election.
After encouraging people to self-research parties and policies in my last blog DIY Politics, ironically here I am trying to be the very middleman I warned against trusting! The message of it being better to hear things ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ still stands. I hope, however, to make a create a starting point on the parties’ disability-related policies to spur on discussion,thought, and hopefully enquiry.
Being the current government, and having been in charge for 9 years now, it is no surprise that National are campaigning on more or less maintaining their current approach. They have no disability specific policies out yet, but they did respond to our disability questions. We can also look at their current directions and plans, discussed in this short video by the Minister for Disability Issues. Social Investment and Enabling Good Lives will continue to be key parts of their approach, as they are planning a transformation prototype using both next year, starting with the mid North Island. Pay equity settlements following e tū’s claim have been budgeted for and will be rolled out to support workers.
National’s policy ‘better educating our children’ intends to double Early Childhood Education funding, extend ‘B4 school checks’ for early health and development problems, and provide more in-class support and teacher-aide hours to special-needs students. The 2017/18 Budget allocated $178.2m over 4 years to ‘maintain and improve disability services’, including community based home support, personal care, caregiver support, residential care and equipment services. An indication of the direction they want to (arguably continue) to head in can also be seen in the new performance measures aiming for 77% of disability support users to be community based, marking a continued shift away from residential services where possible.
In line with their fresh approach slogan, Labour opted to scrap all 2014 policies from their website. They have responded to our questions, building on a soon to be released 2017 Disability Policy, which focuses on ensuring equality and inclusion in areas of employment, education and housing. Namely, employment barriers physical and attitudinal will be tackled by supporting employers to hire people with disabilities through funding and education, and furthering access to vocational services.
Labour has said it will consider sponsoring the Accessibility for New Zealanders Act, draft legislation developed by the Access Alliance. The right to an inclusive education is championed by changing the funding to be based around the individuals’ wishes and capabilities, rather than the schools’. Where possible, retrofitted and newly built state housing will be built with a ‘lifetime design’, and more innovative ideas such as 24/7 access to taxi’s in major cities and improving broadcast captioning of national television programs are also mentioned.
While only figures at this stage, Labour’s areas of focus can be glimpsed in their 2017/18 budget, which allocates an extra $4b and $8b to health and education respectively, over 4 years. Their employment related policies ‘ready for work’ and ‘dole for apprenticeships’ aim to incentivise employers taking on currently-unemployed people, and while no specific mention of disability is made, the tackling of barriers to employment is committed to and hopefully applied more directly to disability in policy to come.
The Green Party actually have a disability policy, which is sadly the exception and not the norm. Their disability policy insists on a holistic approach to inclusion, and aims at improving social and physical access to essential services like public transport, education and employment. Last campaign they called for the establishment of an independent disability commission, a topic that will hopefully gain more traction this election. Their recent policy ‘mending the safety net’increases all core benefits, including the Supported Living Payment, by 20%, accompanied by a change in abatement rates that will leave benefit levels less affected by an increase in wages. The brand new transport plan offers free off-peak transport for people with disabilities.
In response to our election questions, the Greens noted their support for the Access Alliance, called for the scraping of minimum wage exemptions, committed to inclusive education as a legal right, and emphasised the importance of employment and acknowledged the public sectors duty to lead by example, amongst other things. An updated disability policy is expected to be released soon.
NZ First plan to “improve residential services for people who have severe illnesses, disabilities and/or substance abuse problems”. Also discussed is education, in particular supporting “true choice for parents of special needs students” adding that “where possible, special units will be incorporated into mainstream schools”. NZ First plans to increase the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme to cover 3% of students. NZ First also plans to develop new funding models to meet the needs of learners with dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s and autism.
The Maori Party’s disability policy from last election was founded on Whānau Ora, an holistic approach aimed at empowering families to take back the control and decisions of their own lives, promoting self-determination and independence. More specifically, Enabling Good Lives, Individualised Funding and Be. Accessible are seen as worthwhile investments to promote accessibility of the physical and social environment. This vision of providing a more individualised approach can again be glimpsed in their response to our questions, which committed to a new dedicated access law (Access Alliance), asked to review employment laws as well as the disability action plan in order to increase employment opportunities by targeting and deconstructing barriers.
With no mention of disability in particular, we are again left to draw inferences from other stances and approaches. Generally advocating for choice and independence, Act believes ‘the state should play a limited but necessary role in protecting our vulnerable’, aiming to reduce welfare dependency while still ‘providing support for those who could not otherwise provide for themselves’. This is in line with their desire to cut Working for Families for upper income earners to fund ‘more effective, targeted programs for those truly in need of help’.
But for this piece from their health and disability spokespersonemphasising the importance of preventative healthcare, and acknowledging the inferior health outcomes of those with a pre-existing disability, as yet no tangible policy on disability has been released. In response to our questions, the need to increase funding for early identification of children with disabilities was noted, as was the desire to further community based advocacy services, reduce employment barriers resulting from negative perceptions, and independently review disability care providers to see what areas need change and additional support. Home ownership for people with disabilities through rent-to-buy schemes is also emphasised to ensure everyone has access to quality housing.
The Mana party also have a policy on disability, which seeks to ensure disabled people have the same access to healthcare, education, housing and freedom from discrimination as everybody else. Full participation of disabled people is paramount, and will be enabled by ensuring accessibility to transport and the right to an inclusive education. Enshrining the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a priority, and the development of anti-discrimination legislation is promoted, although the Access Alliance is not directly referred to.
Perhaps due to being the new kid on the block, TOP state they are purely concerned with implementing their selected policies, none of which directly cover disability. Of partial relevance however is the insistence on increasing Early Childhood Education funding and availability. Also of importance is the willingness to introduce, albeit gradually, a Universal Basic Income in an attempt to reduce reliance on targeted social assistance, remove the ‘poverty trap’ induced by targeted welfare, and recognise and allow for the continued role played by those in society that aren’t in paid employment.
No mention of disability at the moment, hopefully, more is to come. Until then, the featured policies and principles on their website allow us to get a glimpse of their thinking on potentially comparable topics, in particular their belief that “it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependants, while recognising that the government must respond to those who require assistance and compassion”.