Disability funding: Chris Hipkins calls for Penny Simmonds to be sacked over 'absolute debacle'

  • 27/03/2024

The Labour Party is calling for Minister Penny Simmonds to be sacked after Christopher Luxon removed all disability funding decisions from her.  

Cabinet now has more control over the Ministry for Disabled People after it blindsided families with sudden cuts to respite care and other services last week. 

Simmonds, the Disability Issues Minister, admitted she signed off on the new restrictions without any consultation. 

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins questioned how Luxon could have faith in Simmonds still holding the portfolio if  Prime Minister Luxon didn't have faith in her decision-making. 

"It's time Christopher Luxon took his own advice from Opposition and showed some leadership," Hipkins said in a statement. 

"Christopher Luxon should remove her as a minister altogether." 

He noted it was an "extraordinary step and a massive vote of no confidence" for the Cabinet to decide it would sign off on funding decisions as opposed to the minister. 

"This has been an absolute debacle from the day we found out that some funding options for carers of people with disabilities were being cut and implemented on the same day, without consultation," Labour Disabilities spokesperson Priyanca Radhakrishnan added. 

"Penny Simmonds was warned as far back as December that there were issues, did nothing, then signed off on changes that would hurt the disability community anyway," Radhakrishnan said. 

Simmonds has been under fire after new funding rules around the purchasing of services were last week uploaded to the Ministry of Disabled People's website with no consultation. Angry members of the community said they were "blindsided". 

Radhakrishnan accused Simmonds of failing to stand up to "communities that needed her". 

"She has blamed everyone but herself: Whaikaha - the Ministry of Disabled People, the previous Government and even the very carers who were losing the funding." 

Radhakrishnan said that was "disgraceful". 

"The Government should act immediately to fix Penny Simmonds' mess and reinstate funding flexibility for carers and the disabled community." 

But, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Luxon said he thought Simmonds was "doing a great job". 

"What we want to make sure is any serious major change to frontline services does come before Cabinet. In this case, it didn't. 

"It was poorly consulted and poorly communicated." 

Simmonds, after initially ducking away from reporters on Tuesday, said funding guidelines had to be in place "to manage the sustainability of a very large fund of public money". 

While Cabinet has since agreed to give the struggling Ministry of Disabled People more money in a pre-Budget commitment, Simmonds said restrictions wouldn't be lifted because "even with the additional funding there is still a real risk of them running out".