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Transforming New Zealand’s disability systems

Late last month, Minister for Social Development, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, and Minister of Health, Hon Andrew Little, made an exciting announcement: the creation of a new ministry for people with disabilities, to be led by people with disabilities. While its name has yet to be finalised, Cabinet is currently referring to it as the Ministry for Disabled People and has confirmed that it will be formed by 1 July 2022. This is a hugely positive step forward in representation and resourcing for the 1.1+ million Kiwis who identify as disabled.

[Image description: photo of a man wearing a black t-shirt, smiling at the camera.]

While Cabinet’s announcement of new accessibility legislation is a significant move in the right direction, it’s important that we maintain a long-term view of how a truly accessible and inclusive Aotearoa could look. It’s equally important that we check in with groups like the Access Alliance – a consortium founded by ten organisations from New Zealand’s disability sector – which have been advocating for this change. An independent report prepared for the Access Alliance, with the support of the New Zealand Law Foundation, sets forward this vision of change.

In ‘Making New Zealand Accessible’, authors Warren Foster, Tom Barraclough and Curtis Barnes make the case for legal infrastructure and accountability to reduce barriers in different domains. Note that not all domains are physical (i.e. buildings). The authors include services and supports as one domain in which barriers are widespread and pervasive. Experiences of disability support in New Zealand currently vary greatly. Depending on where this support is sourced, recipients can be bound to strict prescriptions for its use or, conversely, may have the freedom to apply funding where it will support their broader needs. Recipients and non-recipient advocates of disability support have long called for greater flexibility around how funding and other resources can be spent. Cabinet’s announcement around a new ministry was ground-breaking, therefore, for another reason: the national rollout of Enabling Good Lives.

Enabling Good Lives was designed to give people with disabilities greater flexibility around support and resources. Elements of this programme were first trialed in Christchurch in 2012, followed by a rollout of the programme in MidCentral in 2018. Reception to both pilots were largely positive although participants did experience some challenges with the programme’s service delivery model. These issues will be addressed ahead of Enabling Good Lives’ national implementation, in collaboration with a panel of advisors who will appoint a Chief Executive and help shape the agency’s early agenda. This is the first step toward a promising overhaul of New Zealand’s disability sector, leading to greater equity for Kiwis with disabilities – including resource for tāngata whaikaha Māori – and their whānau.

[Image description: photo of two people looking at a laptop. One is standing while the other is seated at a table, pointing at the laptop screen.]

What does this news mean? For Skillet and our members, this announcement marks a new phase of choice and control for Kiwis with disabilities and older New Zealanders. Understanding that 52% of Kiwis aged 65+ are disabled, according to Stats NZ’s 2013 Disability Survey, the national expansion of Enabling Good Lives could draw upon vast resources to alleviate or entirely remove some of the service and support barriers that currently exclude older Kiwis from service and retail marketplaces. Alongside the rollout of Enabling Good Lives, the creation of a Ministry for Disabled People and increasing support for accessibility legislation, 2022 could be a launching pad for a truly more inclusive and age-friendly Aotearoa. To download your copy of ‘Making New Zealand Accessible: A Design for Effective Accessibility Legislation’, use this link:

21 November 2021


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