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Freeze Highlights Problems In Disability Sector


January 8, 2008

Funding Increase Freeze Highlights Major Problems In Disability Sector

The PSA says the Ministry of Health’s freeze on funding rate increases for residential care for the disabled will lead to a cut in services and highlights the need to overhaul how the sector is funded and managed.

The Ministry has postponed increases in its contract rates for organisations, like Spectrum Care and Healthcare NZ, who provide residential care for the disabled. The Ministry says this is due to unbudgeted increases in costs.

“We’re extremely disappointed the Ministry has imposed this freeze,” says Richard Wagstaff, National Secretary of the PSA, which has 2500 members working in the disability sector. “This is because we understood that extra funding provided by the Government in last year’s Budget would be used to start lifting low pay rates in the disability sector.”

“Instead of this money being used to boost wages and develop career pathways for the staff it’s been siphoned off into other areas,” says Richard Wagstaff.

The Government provided an extra $36.1 million, in last year’s Budget, to cover cost and demographic pressures for Disability Support Services in the 2007/08 financial year.

“The major problem the disability sector faces is a 30% turnover of staff working in residential care,” says Richard Wagstaff.

“That’s because the workers are paid as little as $11.75 an hour, just 50 cents above the minimum adult wage.”

“It’s simply not possible to establish a well-trained professional workforce in the disability sector with such low rates of pay,” says Richard Wagstaff.

These workers struggle to live on these pay rates and many work 100 to 110 hours a fortnight just to make ends meet. One support worker told the PSA that she’d worked 150 hours in a fortnight because there was no one to relieve her at the end of her shift.

“The extra funding in the Budget should have been used to reduce staff turnover in the disability sector by lifting pay rates,” says Richard Wagstaff. “Instead funding levels have been frozen and desperately needed pay increases for underpaid and overworked disability staff are even further away.”

Richard Wagstaff says this will inevitably lead to a reduction in the level of care for the disabled as it will make it even more difficult to retain and recruit skilled and experienced staff to work in community houses.

“It will also increase the chances of industrial action as workers’ collective agreements expire and they seek to address their low pay rates, long hours and lack of training,” Richard Wagstaff.

In July the PSA presented a submission to Parliament’s social services select committee which is looking at how the quality of care for the disabled can be improved.

“Our message to the select committee was a simple one,’’ says Richard Wagstaff.

“The single most effective thing we can do to improve the quality of life for the disabled is to improve the pay and working conditions for the staff who spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week enabling the disabled to live in the community.”

“The Ministry’s freeze on funding levels for residential care providers is further proof that we need to overhaul how the disability sector is funded and managed,” says Richard Wagstaff.


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