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Dyson: launch of the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust

Hon Ruth Dyson
Minister for Social Development & Employment
Minister for Senior Citizens
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
Minister for Disability Issues

14 February 2008 Speech Notes

Address to launch of the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust

10am, Turnbull House, Bowen St, Wellington

Rau rangatira maa,
tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra.
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

[Distinguished guests, greetings to you gathered here for this purpose today. Greetings once, twice, three times to you all.]

Good morning.

Thank you Mary [O’Hagen] for your kind introduction, and for the opportunity to launch the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust, formally known as the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Services Charitable Trust Fund.

I’d also like to acknowledge Trust Board members
Robert Martin – deputy chair,
Chris Adamson,
Tracey Cannon,
John Sutherland,
Barney Cooper and Kerry Whitworth.
and Public Trust in its role as trustee.

I’d like to speak briefly about the Trust’s history, and share our government’s position on the rights of consumers of care and support services, the movement away from institutions, and the role of consumer advocates.

The story that led to the Trust’s development is an interesting one. To me, it is an excellent example of the changing attitudes in New Zealand towards people with experience of mental illness, and people with intellectual or learning disabilities who use disability supports.

Hospitals throughout New Zealand – including psychiatric and psychopaedic hospitals – have historically managed patients’ funds for their benefit, with patients’ capital being deposited in interest bearing accounts. Around 1979, some of the hospitals began to credit the interest earned to an account called the “Patients’ Recreation Fund”. This was used for the general benefit of all patients.

Ten years later, this practice came to the attention of the Director of Mental Health who asked for the accumulated interest to be frozen pending the development of a process that would see interest returned to patients whose money it was or, where it could not be returned, used in some other acceptable way.

By the early 1990s about half of the interest money had been reimbursed to former patients to whom the benefits were paid. Later that decade the Attorney General invited Public Trust to prepare a deed to establish a trust for the interest money that had not been claimed, and this was developed in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission, consumers, the Ministry of Health and the Office for Disability issues.

The Trust Deed was put in place in 2006 establishing the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Service Charitable Trust, or Frozen Funds Charitable Trust. Under the Trust Deed the Trust Fund, which is currently about $5 million, has two purposes: to provide assistance to people in New Zealand who have been or are users of mental health and/or intellectual disability services; and to provide assistance to those people who are current or former patients of institutions and inpatient facilities in New Zealand.

Out of this the Trust Board was established with seven members; four of whom are users (or former users) of mental health or intellectual disability services. The Public Trust provides administration and investment services to the board, and the board has responsibility for deciding on the distribution of the funds. As a first step, it is to provide grants for projects run by or for people who use mental health or intellectual disability services. The grants will be funded from the interest on the Trust Fund, expected to be around $300,000 annually.

I understand the first round of grants will be made this year and awarded to projects by charitable organisations that will raise public awareness of the legacy of institutionalisation. Former patients who have not yet received their accumulated interest can still apply to receive this, but it will not come out of the Trust Fund. Instead, applications will be dealt with by the Crown Health Financing Agency, and I understand the Trust intends to publicise this.

Looking back into history, the late 1970s misdirection of the money of individual patients into “Recreation Funds” for the benefit of all patients may actually have been well meant, but it reflected beliefs that were prevalent at that time: that institutions always knew what was best for their residents; and that people with experience of mental illness, and people with intellectual or learning disabilities, did not need to be involved in decisions about issues concerning them.

These beliefs were in turn underpinned by beliefs about “personal competence”: that people receiving care or support must therefore be incompetent, and that those who had problems managing one area of their lives were therefore unable to manage their lives in general.

From the late 1970s, these opinions were increasingly challenged as attitudes to disability and disabled people changed, and more and more disabled people were recognised as having the same rights as others, including to live and participate in the community. This approach is reflected in the vision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy, launched in 2001, of an inclusive society that highly values the lives of disabled people and continually enhances their full participation.

A crucial element of this approach has been the growth of self-advocacy: in particular, service users advocating to protect and advance their interests. In the case of the Frozen Funds, it was the advocacy of mental health service users, in particular, that played a vital role in the return of the money, where possible, to claimants and the development of the Frozen Funds Trust. Later, they were joined by the Mental Health Commission, People First and the Office for Disability Issues. I commend you all for your advocacy.

Institutions of the type which set up ‘Patients’ Recreation Funds’ no longer exist. The closure of Levin’s Kimberley Centre in October 2006 marked the last of 13 institutions for people with intellectual disability or mental illness to have closed in the last two decades. However, it is important that we do not forget that institutions existed and had a significant effect on the lives of those who were their patients.

The government acknowledged this when, in 2005, it established a Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals. The Forum provided a confidential environment in which former in-patients, family members of in-patients or former staff members could describe their experiences of psychiatric institutions in New Zealand in the years before November 1992, at which date the current mental health legislation came into effect.

The Forum was a new reconciliation initiative for New Zealand. It offered a constructive approach to dealing with historic matters that had deeply affected people at the time and that still affect present lives. The Trust Board’s decision to give priority for grants to projects raising public awareness of the legacy of institutionalisation is also constructive and will assist reconciliation. I applaud this decision.

However, it is important for everyone to recognise that “institutional thinking” – the belief that one person knows what is best for another person, and is automatically entitled to act on that other person’s behalf – also takes place outside institutions. We need to be alert to any incidents of this in the community, and to work against this whenever it occurs.

I look forward to watching the progress of the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust. Thank you for your time.


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