Catherine Delahunty

Family care case continues

by Catherine Delahunty

In recent months, I’ve been doing what I can to call attention to the case of seven families engaged in a lengthy court battle with the Ministry of Health over their right to be paid to care for disabled family members.

These seven families represent thousands of others around the country in the same position. Their case has been upheld by the Human Rights Review Tribunal and the High Court, but the Ministry of Health has now appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal.

It is my strong belief that disabled people have the right to choose to be cared for by family members, and that if they so choose, those family members have the right to be paid fairly for this work. The Courts have so far agreed, yet justice keeps being denied for these families.

In March, I held a forum in Parliament for the families to discuss the case, which was very successful. Last month I revealed that the taxpayer has so far footed a $1.2m legal bill for the Ministry to keep appealing the case through the courts.

This is a colossal waste of taxpayer funds, and continues to delay – and therefore deny – justice to the thousands of families affected.

The Ministry of Health claims that it has to appeal the decisions because it would cost the Government up to $600m to start paying family carers what they are entitled to.

This claim is frankly misleading. Independent economist Brian Easton gave evidence during the hearings that the fiscal costs were more likely to be much lower – between $17 and $32m. Brian Easton’s analysis is available online here and here, and is well worth a read.

Meanwhile, more cases of families affected are coming to light. Check out this story from TVNZ’s Marae Investigates programme (relevant story is Chapter 3 of the video). Dr Huhana Hickey is a leading disability rights lawyer, who also happens to have MS. She has individualised funding and is able to pay her son Joseph to care for her for 28 hours per week, but in order to receive this funding he is not allowed to live with her, or care for her during the weekends. Yet someone whose disability is caused by an accident can pay a fulltime family carer under ACC. This hardly seems fair.

Dr Hickey reckons this policy breaches both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and should be referred to a UN Special Rapporteur. What do you think?