'It shouldn't be this hard': children, poverty and disability
Disabled children are more likely to live in poverty than other children, increasing the barriers they face to participation and inclusion in society, says Child Poverty Action Group.
In a report released today, 'It shouldn't be this hard': children, poverty and disability, CPAG says disabled children are often invisible in discussions about policies that affect them, meaning their rights and interests, and those of their care-givers, are overlooked.
There are around 95,000 disabled children aged 0-14 years in New Zealand. A 2013 disability survey showed 15% of those children lived in households with incomes under $30,000 compared with 10% of all children.
CPAG is particularly concerned about the impact of a significant decline in the number of Child Disability Allowances (CDA) granted annually by Work and Income. The CDA is a non-income-tested allowance available to parents to help compensate for the time and expense of caring for a disabled child.The number of new CDAs granted has almost halved since 2008 while the number of disabled children has increased, from 92,000 in 2001 to 95,000 in 2013. Over the same period spending on the Disability Allowance also dropped 14% in real terms. CPAG Co-Convenor Alan Johnson says, "We have not seen the Government championing cuts in support to families with disabled children, but that is in effect what has happened."
The title of CPAG's report 'It shouldn't be this hard' came from a comment made by parents of disabled children interviewed for this research. Alan Johnson says, "Whether negotiating with government agencies, applying for education funding, or trying to get support from Work and Income, the process is often slow and difficult. Not surprisingly, parents often feel their children's needs are invisible."
Johnson says, "Disabled children barely rated a mention throughout the major welfare reforms implemented since 2010, even though we know around 14% live in families supported by benefits. Decisions about services provision at local level, including public transport, are often made with little consideration for disabled children's needs."
Disability advocate, Colleen Brown says, "The real heroes in this country are the parents who struggle every day to get their children up, fed, clothed, accepted at school, resourced, and included in their community, while also doing all the other things expected of them at work and at home."
Child Poverty Action Group urges Government to take account of the ongoing needs of disabled children and their families. The report makes 9 policy recommendations to improve services for children with disabilities, including a review of support payments for parents to make sure the needs of their disabled children are prioritised over the parents' job-seeking and work preparation.
CPAG would like to acknowledge the wonderful generosity of the parents, caregivers and disability advocates who assisted us with researching this report.
- That the government collect and disseminate better quality, disaggregated, publicly available data on the number, location and socioeconomic and other (including cultural) status of disabled children, their educational and health outcomes, and indicators to assess whether their outcomes are improving over time.
- That the government acknowledge the role of Special Education Needs Coordinators in schools and accordingly fund a staffing entitlement directly through school budgets.
- That the funding and allocation of services for disabled children be reviewed in partnership with the disability sector to identify shortfalls and find ways to improve service delivery in ways that are child-focused.
- That the Office of Disability Issues or other appropriate body investigate ways to ensure that government agencies and staff recognise and take account of the ongoing needs of disabled children and their families when engaging with them.
- That eligibility criteria for the Supported Living Payment be revised for parents with disabled children, or that some other provision be made so that the needs of their children prevail over parents' job-seeking and work preparation obligations unless parents request otherwise.
- That the Ministry of Social Development:
- Investigates why there has been a sharp reduction in the number of Child Disability Allowance (CDAs) granted;
- analyses census data to ascertain if there is a socioeconomic, geographical or ethnic variance in respect of the number and proportions of CDAs granted and declined;
- works with the sector to assess the role of Regional Health Advisors and determine whether they are overriding medical professionals' advice;
- works with the sector to identify barriers to the granting of CDA where eligibility criteria appear to be met, and considers strategies to minimise these;
- undertakes a similar process with respect to the Disability Allowance.
- That an individualised funding model be further investigated to provide, where appropriate, tailored programmes and services, including housing, to disabled children and their families. One model that could be trialled is a key worker and advocate for families.
- That an independent fully-funded Commissioner and advocacy service for disabled persons, children and their parents be established that would work with the sector and help parents to deal with state and other agencies, and provide support and advice for families.