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Maharey To Association for Supported Employment

Hon Steve Maharey
Minister of Social Services and Employment
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
MP for Palmerston North

Keynote address to the Association for Supported
Employment in New Zealand conference.

Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch, 9 March 2000.


Check against delivery.

Thank you for inviting me here today.

It is good to have the opportunity to address an issue of such importance at a relatively early stage of this Government.

The importance Labour places on dealing with disability issues was emphasised from the outset by the appointment of my colleague, Ruth Dyson, as this country’s first Minister for Disability Issues.

This is no small recognition of the special needs of the sector and the job we have ahead to eradicate barriers to people with disabilities participating in society.

As the first Minister for Disability Issues, Ruth Dyson, will oversee the development of the national strategic plan for the sector within government.

The role will not take the responsibility for providing services away from any mainstream departments.

But it will enable much greater cohesiveness and co-ordination across the relevant government sectors.

And as Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment, Ruth Dyson will be taking an especial interest in removing barriers to employment and assisting people with disabilities into work.

The Government's approach to disability issues

The Government will be working across the board on issues related to people with disabilities, including the health system, human rights, the provision of services to Maori and other ethnic groups, housing, income support, and employment, including all forms of supported employment.

Many of these issues are inter-related. For example, people need to be healthy to take up employment.

The approach we will take is based on two key areas:

Firstly, partnership with the voluntary sector and people with disabilities. This is important for successful service delivery and policy.

Secondly, acknowledging the human rights of people with disabilities.

Consultation with people with disabilities will therefore be a key consideration.

There are reviews planned in a number of areas. While I appreciate that there is a great deal of cynicism about reviews, we are determined to see progress in a number of areas.
Employment

The Household Labour Force Survey recorded a 0.5% drop in unemployment across the economy for the December 1999 quarter.

Unemployment now stands at 6.3%. The economy is growing strongly and we can expect sustained growth into the foreseeable future.

I mention this because a drop in unemployment offers a more optimistic scenario for all those seeking work. As a Government we can assist people in any number of ways to become job-ready, but there must be jobs available if we are to move people into employment.

For people with disabilities specific support is needed. The Government recognises that it has to be active.

Two surveys carried out in 1996 – the Household Disability Survey and the Disability Survey of Residential Facilities – have provided us with the first extensive database of information on people with disabilities we have.

The Government will ensure that further appropriate research is carried out into the nature, incidence and needs associated with disability in New Zealand to guide policy making and service delivery.

The 1996 surveys showed clearly that people with disabilities were less likely to be employed. It found that across the working age population 66 percent of adults were in employment.

However the employment rate for the adults living in households where was one or more persons with disabilities was just over half this figure, at 37 percent.

People with disabilities are also more likely to not be in the labour force. 60 percent of adults with disabilities of working age do not work and are not seeking work. This compares with just over 25 percent of the total working age population.

Ideally we would like people with disabilities to be working in open employment and receiving support if necessary to get and keep the job. This is our goal. But it may take some time to achieve.

The basic approach of the government for people with disabilities will be to encourage people who want to look for work to do so, and endeavour to provide support to remove barriers to employment.

The Work Capacity Assessment Trial has been stopped. This government does not require people on the Invalids Benefit to work in order to receive the income support.

Legislation will be needed to formally end the trial but I can give you an unequivocal assurance this morning that we will pass the necessary legislation through the House this year. In the mean time I have directed that no further work on the trial is to be undertaken.

First and foremost people with disabilities seeking employment should be assisted, if they need it, in the same way that any other job seeker is.

In this way they should continue to be eligible for the services provided by Work and Income New Zealand.

Many people with disabilities choose mainstream services in preference to specialist services.

However some people may need additional, specialised assistance, a point I will return to.

We do have concerns about the way that WINZ operates and the services that it provides to people. We want to improve services to all job seekers, including people with disabilities.

We also acknowledge that addressing barriers is not likely to be enough in itself. Job creation is also necessary.

In that regard, plans for the Ministry of Economic Development and Industry New Zealand were announced recently.

We are also currently investigating community-based initiatives to increase the number of jobs that are available.

While people with disabilities are eligible for ‘mainstream’ programmes we are aware that sometimes people with disabilities need specialised assistance to help them find and retain work.

A number of specialist programmes are available, including those through WINZ and Workbridge, and those provided by supported employment providers. I am aware however that these are not sufficient for everyone who needs assistance.

Supported employment plays an important part in achieving our aims. The services currently provided by supported employment providers are very valuable and demonstrate an effective way to help people find and keep work.

While in the past sheltered employment has been one of the main forms of employment for people with disabilities, current developments which this government is very interested in revolve around mainstream jobs and assisting and placing people into these jobs, with support if necessary.

Supported employment is an ideal way of doing this. We are very keen to see these services continue.

I acknowledge many providers face financial concerns, but the government is committed to reviewing vocational service funding, including supported employment.

Priorities

I would now like to turn to the government’s priorities: what I see as the major issues that we face and our suggested way forward.

Sheltered Employment

Sheltered employment and the Disabled Person’s Employment Promotion Act.

There have been numerous reviews of this recently. None have resulted in significant change. We don’t have the answers right now but the government is committed to ensuring that this area is resolved.

It will take time, and there are a number of difficult issues involved. Sheltered employment can play an important role but it can isolate people, and neither provide them with skill development nor the opportunities to move on to other work.

There is also a danger that people can be exploited.

Sheltered employment is one of the many areas where people in the sector have many ideas about what should be done. We will need to draw on this knowledge and to work in partnership to create worthwhile change.

I don’t necessary want to see sheltered employment end, but the main principle underlying our approach must be that sheltered employment operates in a way that respects the rights of people with disabilities.

Addressing the employment assistance needs of people with disabilities

The government is currently formulating its employment strategy. An important part of this is ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities are met so that they can take part in employment and the community at large.

There is scope for us trying some new, innovative approaches and better utilising the existing knowledge and skills of service providers.

Your members and others are doing a lot of good work in this area.

I would like to see that built upon so that more people can move into mainstream employment. This is a high priority for the government and I am determined to see some advances in the near future.

Funding

For a number of years service providers to people with disabilities, including daily activities, vocational training, sheltered employment and supported employment, and placement into open employment and training, have had little change in funding.

Many are under financial pressure.

Not only have providers been operating without funding changes for a number of years, but also there has been an increased demand for services. This is an area that must be looked at.

However it will be no secret that the government has a large number of budget demands in front of it, and any number of areas that are seeking more money from a finite resource.

We are currently in the process of finalising this year’s budget so I am unable to give you any direction on this, except to say that regardless of whether or how much extra funding becomes available, this issue will remain on the government’s agenda.

Income Support

The income support system should not create barriers to employment.

Many in the disability sector have pointed to anomalies in the current invalids’ benefit policy.

There is general agreement that a fundamental review of invalids benefit is needed because the current eligibility and entitlement rules are problematic when it comes to enabling people with a disability to take up work opportunities.

The Government is also committed to trying alternative benefit abatement regimes and improving the quality of case management. This type of work will also help to minimise barriers to work in the income support system for people with a disability.

We want to create opportunities and encourage people to take advantage of them, not to have a system that creates more barriers to employment.

A way forward

A lot of good work being done by service providers and voluntary workers. We must ensure that this is built on.

There must be adequate funding to ensure that services remain viable.

The Government faces many challenges in this area.

My challenge for you is to continue the invaluable service and support that you provide, continue striving for improvement and to work with us to make positive changes for the future.

You are the ones who know what works and what effect changes are likely to have. My colleague Ruth Dyson and I look forward to your ideas and contributions.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be here with you this morning.

ENDS

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