Saturday 7 August 2010

It corrupts everything it touches

From Karl du Fresne's Listener article, now ungated, on the changes in New Zealand's policies towards sheltered workshops:
Twenty years ago, says Gillard [Ian Gillard, former Taupo branch President of IHC], IHC branches enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. Taupo had its own branch manager and enjoyed generous financial and practical support from the community. Then IHC dispensed with branch managers and began merging its branch and regional offices. Meanwhile, the number of staff at the national office increased dramatically. “Suddenly the society was being influenced by a whole raft of people in all the important positions in Wellington with degrees in sociology and so on.”

Local control of fund-raising and expenditure was taken away, leaving parents – the traditional mainstay of the society – wondering what role was left for them. Local members came to feel disenfranchised, Gillard says. “Last year they couldn’t raise a committee here.”

The changes coincided with IHC’s increasing reliance on the Government. Once heavily dependent on donations, it’s now a beneficiary of the state. In 2008-09, more than $204 million of IHC’s income came from government contracts and a relatively puny $8 million from fundraising and legacies.

The IHC’s Ralph Jones acknowledged in a letter to a parent in 2005 that government funding came with a cost. “Has the IHC become too PC in some areas?” he wrote. “Yes, by being a service provider we have bought into the government expectation, standards and policies.”

Gillard observes drily: Once the Government starts providing money it’s entitled to have a say in how it’s spent, and that grip is like a bloody octopus.” (emphasis added)
Prospects for change under National, who opposed the policy changes that led to this? Slim to none.
But Disabilities Minister Tariana Turia confirmed to the Listener that the Government supports the Disability Strategy and Pathways to Inclusion. “All of these framework documents promote the goal of disabled people being employed in the open labour market with the same rights as other people,” she said in a prepared statement. “Reversing the decision to repeal the DPEP Act would be inconsistent with this goal.”

Asked whether she was aware of people who were previously happily engaged in IHC sheltered workshops now spending their time in less fulfilling activities such as going for walks or shopping, Turia said some of those workshops were “make work” settings where disabled people engaged in repetitive tasks that merely “looked like work”.

In a response that parroted the IHC position, Turia said Idea Services – IHC’s operational arm – supported disabled people in paid employment in mainstream settings with the same rights, conditions and obligations as other employees. “Idea Services is also funded to provide community participation services which seek to involve people with intellectual disabilities in their communities, in mainstream settings, on the same basis as all other members of the community.” However, she acknowledged some who previously attended IHC sheltered workshops, and their families, had not been happy with the changes.

None of which would surprise Marion Miller. “Hey, how many voters are affected? There might be 3000 or 4000, tops. The politicians of the time didn’t really put a lot of weight on their views. It’s a small section of the community and the politicians wanted to push this through. And no one has ever come back to see how it’s working.”
I'd commented previously based on du Fresne's blog post. The full article is even more depressing.

In general, we don't expect legislation that imposes concentrated costs with dispersed benefits. In this case, we have very concentrated costs on those disabled put out of work by the change with ideological benefits for an even more concentrated group. The former group is basically disenfranchised while the latter is an entrenched part of the system.

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