Chris Hipkins hits out at disability minister's claim carers using funding for pedicures, overseas trips

Labour leader Chris Hipkins is appalled at the disability minister's claim that carers are using funding to pay for pedicures and overseas trips, saying she is "abusing" the community.

Hipkins went on to say the suggestion that disability carers were "ripping off the system" is wrong and that using funding for things like massages is justified in the job.

New funding rules around the purchasing of services were uploaded to the Ministry of Disabled People's Whaikaha website on Monday with no consultation, according to members of the community.

While it is not a cut to funding, the new restrictions would limit what disabled people could purchase with their funding.

Access to funding for sensory toys or devices like tablets which aid the non-verbal is now restricted, and gym memberships and massages for those often required to carry someone heavier than their own body weight is gone.

Disability Issues Minister Penny Simmonds said on Tuesday the funding for disability support services had "blown out" under the previous Government.

In response to the budget blowout accusations, Hipkins said the funding was not only affordable, but essential. He said for a long time New Zealand hasn't supplied the disability community with the support they need to lead good enabling lives.

He hit out at Disability Issues Minister Penny Simmonds for suggesting some of the funding is going to pedicures and overseas holidays, calling the comments "plainly offensive".

"They work so hard to provide care for their loved ones and I just think being kicked around by the Government like that is just really wrong," Hipkins said.

Simmonds said some of the funding has been going to carers which must be pulled back and prioritised to the disabled person.

"We have got such broad criteria at the moment that the funding has also been used for massages, overseas travel, pedicures and haircuts for carers," she told reporters on Tuesday.

Hipkins disagreed that the funding was too flexible.

"We recognise the fact that those caring do a really tough job," he said.

He said if a family member caring for someone with a disability is constantly having to lift that person, then some physical therapy for the carer, whether that be a massage, can  be a "critical part of doing that work".

"This idea that our disability carers are somehow ripping off the system, which seems to be the implication from the minister yesterday, I just think she should actually apologise for that," Hipkins said.

"I think what she has said is wrong and that she is abusing a segment of our community who are doing amazing work."

"I just think she should actually apologise for that."
"I just think she should actually apologise for that." Photo credit: AM

CCS Disability Action's leadership coordinator Debbie Ward said she had no consultation prior to the change and found out about them by reading a post on Facebook.

Ward said the move was a shock and will likely have negative effects on the disabled community.

"I think it has a flow-on effect. It's going to have a big impact on those of us that are disabled as well as the carers and family members of disabled young people," she told AM.

Ward said often friends and family members are used to provide support and take that load off disabled people, however, she fears they may lose that avenue under the changes.

"We do that because we have a relationship with these people and they are not strangers in our lives and now I guess we are being more directed to use our funds on agencies that might exist that provide that support but our strangers in our lives," Ward said.

Disability Issues Minister Penny Simmonds told reporters at Parliament her Ministry could've consulted better with the disability community.

"I will talk to Whaikaha about the way in which they consult and the way in which they make announcements."

She indicated that the funding decisions could be temporary while new funding criteria were established.