Disabled Kiwis 'tired of being ignored' descend on parliament

Gerard Zwartjes has lived in his car for two decades after lead poisoning left him unable to work, but he is often left in tears by case workers at the Ministry of Social Development when he asks for help to get his life back on track.
He was among those from Invercargill to Auckland who met at Parliament on Tuesday to present a petition calling for an independent regulatory body to be led and run by disabled people.

It was part of the Te Hikoi o Te tumanako mo o whanau hauaa, or March of Hope for disabled New Zealanders.

Advocates brought letters, videos and audio recordings from those unable to attend due to mobility issues.

I am sick and tired of being ignored and this is why this hikoi signifies so much for me, Zwartjes, a 65-year-old Paraparaumu resident said.

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A disabled man has been living in his car for 20 years due to high medical bills.

I didnt choose to be disabled, and I dont want to be unable to work and be a burden on society.

It comes as disabled people face increased discrimination at home, socially and in the workplace where they earn less, have fewer qualifications and are more likely to live in lower quality homes that are cold, mouldy, damp and unsuited for their needs. Increased numbers are lonely.

Disabled Kiwis were also shut out of Government decisions, disability advocate Dr Huhana Hickey said. One in four New Zealanders had a disability.

We have no one sitting in the house of power right now that has a lived experience and a background in our community that can represent us, Hickey, one of the events organisers said.

Dr Huhana Hickey addresses the crowd outside parliament.

Access to support services, it is time we define that; it is time we get enforceable laws around parking, it is time we get 100 per cent state houses to be accessible, it is time we get employment initiatives, it is time we get to education.

Associate minister for social development and employment Priyanca Radhakrishnan accepted the letters, videos and audio recordings on behalf of minister for social development Carmel Sepuloni, who was at a tangi.

The Government was committed to improving the lives of disabled people and there were 29 work programmes underway to do that, she said.

We have used a co-design approach with the disability community in the development of disability support transformation.

People met at parliament to advocate for disabled people to have better representation in all areas of life.

Across the welfare system, disabled people have been crucial to ensuring culture change and ensuring their perspectives were reflected, she said.

Main benefits will increase by over 3 per cent, instead of 1.66 per cent, on April 1 a significant lift, she said. People would also be able to earn more from working before their benefit was reduced.

We expect our changes to abatement rates to also have a passive impact on disabled people who work part-time or are maybe rentering paid work on a gradual basis, she added.

But it is little comfort for Zwartjes. He developed chronic fatigue and multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome after suffering from lead poisoning in 2001, but hasnt been able to get Government support to cover his high medical bills.

I have suffered so much abuse from MSD over the 20 years I have had to deal with them. Time and time again I have left their offices frustrated and in tears. Now I can proudly proclaim I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

This unbridled power has to be reigned in and this is where the call for an independent body for disabled people, by disabled people is crucial.


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