Thursday, July 19, 2012

Help save legal services for the disabled

It's probably fair to say that disabled people in low-decile neighbourhoods are not living off the fat of the land. Chances are they are reliant on benefit income ($204.96 per week for a SB if recipients are single and aged 25 and over, $256.19 for an IB if recipients are single and aged 18 and over. The higher payment for the IB recognises that people on an IB are there for the long haul or are supposed to quietly die sometime soon). These princely sums are supplemented by various disability allowances and presumably an Accommodation Supplement, and - if recipients have the patience to fill out the application form - a Community Services Card. In any event, there's not much to go around once the rent, food and medicines are paid for. Not much for, say, legal fees if things go pear shaped.
As part of its review of community law centres, the government has announced it intends to withdraw funding for the Mangere Disability Law Centre. Not the Remuera or Khandallah Disability Law Centre, but the specialist disabled legal service in one of the poorest urban areas in the country. 
The law centre is obviously alarmed about this, and so are we. Spider and I did some investigation and came up with the following info:
  • About 30-50% of clients are Maori or Pasifika, reflecting the relative economic disadvantage of those groups, and their greater likelihood of being injured or disabled;
  • Nearly all are beneficiaries. Not surprising - whatever the Minister might say about the ennobling properties of work, the Disabled Persons Assembly will tell anyone who will listen that the biggest barrier to work for disabled people is employer discrimination, so this leaves people few options. Further reducing the likelihood of this particular group being in work is the woeful state of public transport in Mangere and its surrounding areas;
  • Most clients are living in Housing New Zealand accommodation, boarding houses or (and I hope you're paying attention, Phil Heatley), cars; 
  • Reasons for needing legal services include employment discrimination, especially redundancy when employers lay disabled people off, advocacy assistance for dealing with Housing New Zealand, WINZ and ACC, and dealing with dodgy guardians, for example guardians who financially exploit them.
In other words, these are people on low incomes with very few options. They need a specialist law service that operates in their community because they can't jump into the Lexus and drive to the next suburb.
If you  think that in a representative democracy justice should be open to all, please help to save the Disability Law Centre. You can:
  • send an email to info@adl.org.nz and ask them to put your name on an open letter to Judith Collins;
  • attend the public meeting Monday 30th July, 1-3 pm at Western Springs Community Garden Hall, 956 Great North Road;
  •  email Judith Collins (j.collins@ministers.govt.nz) or Tariana Turia (t.turia@ministers.govt.nz) directly;
  • lobby your local MP (especially if s/he is a Tory), your local board or Councillor.
Then there's the usual letter to the editor stuff and having a whinge on talkback. The Ministry of Justice has said it will stop consulting with the community law centres on 1 August so time is short. 
Whatever Ms Collins is hoping, the disabled poor will not just FOAD. Nor should they.