Supporting the Disabled

For my evidence see

Keywords: Health; Social Policy;

One of the ways I earn my crust is as a consultant. Although it often involves very satisfying economics, I rarely use the experience directly in my public writings (and if I do I tell you). Another rule is dont get too involved in the case. My job is to tell the client what they need to know – not, as is the practice of some consultants, what they want the public to hear. Let me break these rules in regard to a recent case, about which I feel passionately.

It involved a claim before the Human Rights Tribunal by nine families with handicapped adult children, who argued they were discriminated against. The state, properly, funds additional care for the children – in various ways they can be quite a handful, so the family needs extra help and sometimes respite care. But when the family provides the care itself – exactly the same care that the state pays for, not just ordinary hour-to-hour care – the state refuses to pay. Extraordinarily then, it discriminates against parents.

As an aside, consultant economists are allowed to be indignant. The financial incentives were perverse. What this policy means is that if some support was arranged, but it failed to turn up and the parents did the job anyway, the Ministry of Health saved the cost of the arrangements. The more inefficient the Ministry was, the less it spent.

But indignation is not passion. To explain its source, you need to know that in the second half of his working life Dad was a psycho-pediatric nurse at Templeton Hospital and Training School outside Christchurch. The institution, since closed down, looked after intellectually handicapped adults like some of the complainants to the Tribunal. (Others complainants were mentally very competent but severely physically handicapped.) To be frank, such people are rarely handsome and are usually gawky in manner and behaviour, perhaps not the sort of people I would have chosen to knock around with as a lad. But I did, because Dad worked with them. In doing so, I found that while they may not have been as bright as me, they had the emotions and the charm of ordinary human beings, and deserved to be treated as such.

I was not thinking of this when I prepared my evidence for the Tribunal. It was about the cost of giving their parents the same rights to be funded as the paid carers. My conclusion was the cost was not large; the net cost to the Ministry was the costs of supplying the services which they were avoiding by loading them onto the parents for free. It is a little more complicated than that, and I should acknowledge that the costs may be larger if the principle is applied to other groups in similar situations. (Note the claim is already the practice of ACC.)

While the Tribunal was properly formal, some of the claimants were present, which gave the room an informal air. They reminded my of my adolescence, and of my Dad and those he looked after. And what that experience had taught me: that despite their handicaps these people were human beings like me, and deserved respect and decent treatment. So did their parents, struggling with caring for them; after all Dad was allowed home after a hard day.

I passionately accept that we should be publicly responsible for supporting these people, and I am glad that we are. I am appalled by the practice of discriminating against their parents. So I was delighted that the Human Rights Tribunal found that as a matter of law the state should not discriminate; as did the appeal tribunal and, more recently, the High Court. Yet. to my astonishment, the Crown is off to the Court of Appeal to get these three decisions reversed. Has it no compassion, has it no decency?

It may well be that there are points of law to be considered, but justice says that where the parent does exactly the same job as the paid carer then they should be paid the same. It’s as simple as that. Isnt it, Dad?