The Devil is in the Detail of the Family Carers Bill

The disability sector finally thought that the Government would deliver on its promised backdown over paying family carers of adult disabled people. The National-­led Government announced, as part of Budget 2013, $23 million a year to pay family carers of high ­needs disabled adults.

This was initially welcomed by carers, their support networks, and the wider disability community. The announcement followed the Government’s decision not to appeal the Atkinson Case, so­-named after the family carer of a disabled person who first took the Government to the Human Rights Commission nearly 10 years ago over this issue.

From where I sit as a disabled person, Finance Minister Bill English and Health Minister Tony Ryall had seemingly made one of the few more positive announcements from the Budget. However, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail.

These payments will only be made at the rate of the minimum wage, currently $13.75 an hour. This merely continues the insulting devaluation of disability and aged care work (and the workers themselves) by successive governments. In particular, the work that family caregivers undertake with their disabled loved ones enables them to live in and participate within their own communities.

Besides, family carers make huge sacrifices too in terms of foregoing outside employment and sometimes even social contact due to working long hours. What’s more, this group of caregivers often carry out support and caring functions for their disabled family members long after they have ceased doing this for their non­disabled family members.

Secondly, the carer pay law was rammed through Parliament under urgency, in one day. This effectively took away the right of New Zealanders to have a greater say on the issue. Furthermore, this legislation ended the right of family caregivers and disabled people to take any further complaints to the Human Rights Commission about the denial of such payments being discriminatory. Significantly, the carer payments law breached the Bill of Rights Act, a fact Attorney­-General Chris Finlayson outlined in the legislation’s Bill of Rights impact statement.

Thirdly, the new law also excluded the spouses or partners of disabled people from being paid caregivers. This group of people will face more pressure to place their disabled partners into supported residential care which will separate them from each other. It merely enables ongoing discrimination against this group of carers and their disabled partners as well.

The National-­led Government said it restricted what carer payments it can make due to ongoing tough fiscal times. Ongoing tough fiscal times – but not for those who get irrigation subsidies, not for well­-heeled taxpayers who claim depreciation and other business costs against their tax bills, and not counting previous spending on Rugby World Cup booze sheds and stadiums. The list goes on.

So, they say they can’t afford the $40 million to make this policy cover more disabled people and their family carers? Well, given the examples above, I say they can.

The Labour Party’s late conversion to the cause shouldn’t be used as an excuse to pay family carers a pittance. After all the years of fighting, they deserve more than that.

Chris Ford