Government announces new Ministry for Disabled People

From July 2022, a new Ministry for Disabled People will be up and running to serve an estimated 1.1 million people living with a disability in New Zealand. 

In June 2020, the Health and Disability System Review found that disabled people had not been served well by the existing health system and that their health outcomes were worse.

The review, which led to sweeping reforms of the health sector including the amalgamation of all 20 District Health Boards into a new centralised agency called Health NZ, described the disability support system as complex and confusing.

More than a year later, the Government has acknowledged the difficulties disabled people face in New Zealand. A new Ministry for Disabled People will be established, led by Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni.

"We know that the Health and Disability Review did not go far enough on disability issues, and that's why Carmel Sepuloni and I commissioned additional work to ensure the aspirations of the disabled community are seriously addressed," Health Minister Andrew Little said on Friday. 

"The disabled community told us that disability issues are not just health issues. We've heard and responded to their desire to lift disability support out of the health system, which is why we're establishing a new Ministry for Disabled People to deliver support for all disabled people."

The Ministry of Social Development will host the new Ministry for Disabled People. It's estimated 1.1 million people in New Zealand have a disability - 632,000 with a physical impairment, 484,000 with a sensory impairment, and 89,000 with a learning disability. 

Health Minister Andrew Little and Disability Issues Minister Carmel Sepuloni pictured in Labour's caucus room in Parliament.
Health Minister Andrew Little and Disability Issues Minister Carmel Sepuloni pictured in Labour's caucus room in Parliament. Photo credit: Getty Images

Sepuloni said the mantra of 'Nothing About Us Without Us' will be central to the change.

"We have listened to the disabled community and ensured that the mantra of 'Nothing About Us Without Us' sits at the heart of the most transformative changes to the disability system in more than a decade."

Little added: "Putting the voice of disabled people and their families at the heart of decision making is an approach that works, as we've seen with the Enabling Good Lives pilots in Christchurch, Waikato and Mid-Central regions.

"Enabling Good Lives empowers disabled people and their families to have more control and choice about the support they receive and that's why we've committed to the national roll-out of Enabling Good Lives."

The Enabling Good Lives vision and principles were developed in 2011 by the disability community, when the previous National-led Government was in power. 

The pilots have seen positive outcomes including increased autonomy and social connectedness, improved quality of life, and better access to education and employment opportunities.

The new ministry will be autonomous from the Ministry of Social Development once it has established itself and is in a good position to carry out its functions. It will have its own chief executive. 

But the Ministry for Disabled People might not be its final name. The Government plans to collaborate with the disability community to identify an "appropriate" name. 

The ministry will consider the entire wellbeing of disabled people, from housing to transport, communication, technology, public buildings and spaces, and all areas of life. 

The current framework for addressing barriers that disabled people face has been described as fragmented, slow, hard to measure, and hasn't led to better policy or system design.

The Government is also establishing an independent Accessibility Governance Board to ensure disabled people continue to be involved in decision making at the highest level possible. It will be led by and represent disabled people.

Research published in July found that disabled people were abused far more than others in New Zealand, with 40 percent of disabled women experiencing physical violence from an intimate partner over their lifetimes. 

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said the data "reinforces international statistics and what experienced practitioners in Aotearoa already know".

Last month a mother admitted killing her terminally ill disabled daughter in Napier. That same month, the nation was shocked to learn police had charged a man with the murder and sexual violation of a Mt Albert woman with Down syndrome