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Shaping a new future for people with disabilities

Shaping a new future for people with disabilities

Steve Maharey Address to the Association for Supported Employment in New Zealand (ASENZ) training forum, Porirua, 28 October 2004
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to open your training forum today.

I’d like to begin by wishing ASENZ a very happy tenth anniversary, and by acknowledging your former Chairperson Roy Wilson for his enormous contribution to your organisation.

In his seven years at the helm of ASENZ, Roy had much to do with your development from a small advocacy group ten years ago to a nationally recognised organisation today.

I also extend a warm welcome to your new Chairperson, Keay Bishop, under whose skilful and energetic leadership ASENZ will continue to go from strength to strength.

The ASENZ Strategic Plan for 2004 is certainly proof that you intend to work vigorously to build quality, broaden your networks and relationships, and promote yourselves more aggressively.

Synergies with ASENZ

This Government shares ASENZ’s commitment to mainstream employment with proper wages and employment conditions for disabled people.

Work is a right, not a privilege.

We share your belief that every person, no matter what their disability, can bring a return on investment to an employer when given the proper support.

Employing a person with ill health or disability is not an act of charity.

We share your commitment to active support that puts employment first, followed by training and support.

That principle has had a strong influence on our development of the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy.

The Strategy represents a profound shift in the way Work and Income works with its clients and with employers. With its focus on capability and proactive support, it’s a quantum move away from the old, passive approach of simply processing benefits and entitlements.

At the heart of the Strategy is the new enhanced case management model, being delivered to around 15,000 Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients in 14 concept sites around New Zealand.

Working in close partnership with training, employment, health, and support providers, case managers develop a holistic package of services that will support the client into sustainable employment.

Work brokers actively promote Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients with ill health or disability to employers, and provide proactive support to employers who take on a person with ill health or a disability.

Just as the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy as a whole is still very new, so our new way of working with employers is still taking shape. We are still learning what employers want, and how we can best provide that.

I urge ASENZ members to do the same sort of thinking.

You provide an exceptional service on the supply side – the client side.

Your next challenge, I think, is on the demand side – on strengthening your services so you can be even more proactive and go even further in meeting employers’ needs.

PATHS in the Manukau concept site

The boldest feature of the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy is the Providing Access to Health Solutions, or PATHS, partnership between Manukau Work and Income and the Counties-Manukau District Health Board.

Along with the integrated training, employment, and support services offered in all the Strategy sites, clients in Counties-Manukau can also have access to funded health interventions that will enable them to return to work.

PATHS is a world first in trialling new services for people with ill health or disability, and is receiving international attention – along with very close monitoring here in New Zealand.

The rationale underpinning PATHS is straightforward. Something as simple as a knee operation, a physiotherapy course, or the right pain management regime can be the vital link to supporting a client into employment.

PATHS has been running in the Manukau site for just over three months, and 175 clients have taken part so far.

The overall results of the Manukau pilot are very positive: from February to September this year, 510 Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients in Manukau left benefit for work, compared to 431 in the same period last year – an increase of 15%.

We’re also seeing an increase in the number of clients declaring earnings against their benefit as a result of moving into part-time work. Both these increases are very encouraging at this early stage of the Strategy.

Our monitoring of the Manukau pilot is also teaching us a phenomenal amount about the needs of this client group, and how we can best meet them.

We’ve learned that many clients have co-existing conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, or joint pain and depression. We need to provide sophisticated health interventions that address more than one condition – and we need to be prepared for longer timeframes than we initially anticipated before the client is ready to return to work.

We’ve confirmed that no single service is effective on its own – clients need a cluster of services to address complex barriers to work. This validates the wisdom of our original decision to provide wraparound, holistic services that put the client at the centre.

We’re finding a very high level of support among clients for the Strategy. Clients are putting their hands up and wanting to take part – whether by getting a direct referral to a workbroker, or whether by taking part in a health intervention.

We’ve confirmed our belief that Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients should not be work tested, and that part-time work is often a more viable option than full-time work.

Rather than introducing punitive changes such as a work test, we’re introducing positive incentives, such as the changes to the 15-hour rule in this year’s Budget.

Clients can now get approval to keep their entitlement to benefit while they trial work for more than 15 hours a week for up to six months.

We recognise that there has been some confusion around the 15-hour rule, and what it means for clients who want to try out part-time work. The latest Strategy newsletter, Independence Works, contains more information about the change, and case managers will ensure their clients are clear about its ramifications.

Working together

As the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy develops, I would like to see a much more collaborative approach between Work and Income and supported employment providers.

I would like to see the relationship move beyond client referrals to one that develops integrated solutions for the client and for the employer.

This new way of working would bring new challenges for providers, shifting accountability requirements into a whole new zone.

Issues of quality and capacity will become even more crucial.

The results we’ve received so far from our reviews of supported employment agencies’ service provision, and their financial and governance arrangements, show a great variation in providers’ capability.

Some providers are more than ready for the next step into a more collaborative way of working. Others have some hard work ahead.

One of the goals of Pathways to Inclusion, the Government’s new direction for vocational services, is to build the capacity and strength of the vocational sector.

The two provider reviews underway are part of that goal.

Providers that have gone through the review process and actioned the recommendations of reviews will receive a 10% increase in funding without being required to provide additional services.

In total, the Government has committed $9 million to new funding for vocational services in 2004/2005, bringing the total to $70 million a year.

This extra funding means that 18 new contracts are coming online in the next year. These new contracts will translate into around 500 extra employment placements, and build on the recent strong growth in employment placements for people with disabilities.

ASENZ success stories

As everyone here is well aware, employment was not always seen as a viable option for people with disabilities. Organisations like ASENZ can take much of the credit for the changed attitudes we can see taking place, and the new opportunities opening up. Your success stories are proof enough.

After 17 years in a sheltered workshop, one client is now doing the same job as a full-time, fully-waged employee – thanks to her caseworker identifying the opportunity, and providing the support the employer needed.

Job coaching has enabled a young woman of 23 to get the job she wanted in a fast food outlet, and removed the pressure for the employer of ensuring she knew the ropes and could handle the work.

A young man with severe epilepsy and physical impairment is working in administration at a retail outlet. He’s held down the job for over four years.

A man with physical and developmental impairments has been a self-employed bicycle repairer for the last five years.

A young woman with cerebral palsy is working as a Teacher Aide in a classroom of students with cerebral palsy.

These kinds of stories inspire everyone to do more, and do better. Closer collaboration between Work and Income and supported employment providers may well be part of the journey.


Six months after the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy’s launch, more people with ill health or disability are in the workforce, and more employers are benefiting from having a wider labour pool in times of high job growth.

Partnerships have been crucial to the success of the Strategy so far, and partnerships will be central to how it develops over the next two to three years.

We are committed to getting continued input from the disability sector, from people with disabilities, and from the organisations we partner with.

Only by harnessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment of others can we achieve real, sustainable outcomes for clients and for employers.

A wealth of that knowledge, expertise, and commitment is in this room today.

I congratulate all ASENZ members for your work to deliver high-quality vocational services – and ASENZ itself, for your work to raise the profile of those services and encourage their development.

Thank you for your time today. All the best for your forum and AGM.

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