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Everyone Has A Hand In Disability Sector Issues

Opinion by Peter Reynolds, CEO.

I read opposition leader Chris Hipkins’ comments on the debacle that was Whaikaha’s purchasing guidelines announcement, that led to Penny Simmons losing the Disability Issues portfolio, with bemusement.

Where was Labour when the disability sector was crying foul of the state of sector funding? Where was Labour when we expressed concern that Whaikaha were being set up to fail with their own funding shortfall? Where was Labour when the sector pleaded for investment in accessible social housing against the ironic calls for deinstitutionalisation? And where was Labour when disabled people were continually abandoned by Work and Income during periods of record low unemployment?

I feel for Penny Simmonds, a new Minister with some hospital-pass portfolios and critically, sat outside Cabinet, who clearly misunderstood the disability sector and the struggles its faced for years, if not decades.

The reality is, it’s impossible to pin the blame on any one person or party for the state of disability support in New Zealand, as multiple governments have contributed to where we are now. The root cause goes back many years, and it needs fixing, not stone-throwing. The Labour party would have more credibility on these issues if it presented a credible alternative that would make a real difference in the lives of disabled New Zealanders.

While Labour mulls over that missed opportunity, I’m pushing for a sector strategic plan. A collaboratively-developed and agreed strategy to set the disability sector direction and expectations for the next decade and beyond. Let’s map out how we deliver on the UN Convention’s expectations and the New Zealand Disability Strategy. Show what implementing Enabling Good Lives will cost and deliver.

We welcome the review of Whaikaha’s finances as a first step, but for meaningful change, let’s keep pushing and show some vision and commitment to deliver it. There’s real, meaningful work to do here, not just throwing more stones in the glasshouse. These issues are bigger than party politics, something both sides of the house need to understand.

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