Last Saturday DPA held a Bubble Hui to discuss what has happened so far towards the establishment of the new ministry for disabled people* and hopes for the ministry in the future.

We were joined by former DPA President and current Co-Chair of the Establishment Unit (EU) for the ministry for disabled people Governance Group Gerri Pomeroy who spoke about the establishment of the new ministry and answered questions from DPA members.

While these notes are arranged under questions, this has been done for ease of reading, rather than being a transcript of questions and answers at the hui.

How will the ministry work?

The Chief Executive will have a big role in shaping how the organisation develops. The recruitment process for a Chief Executive is currently underway. The Public Service Commission runs this, and then the appointment is also run past ministers and the SIS because of the responsibility of the role. The EU Community Steering and Governance Groups are not involved in the selection process, however they made it clear that they want a disabled person in this role.

Working to set up the new ministry is a huge job involving a team of 35 public servants.

The Establishment Unit have been working to get to 'Day One', 1July when the Ministry for Disabled People will open. It's a complex operation involving moving a lot of staff over from the Disability Directorate at the Ministry of Health, Enabling Good Lives, and the Office for Disability Issues.

The biggest thing has been around culture, and the expectation that the way of working will be significantly different from how things have worked before. The EU Community Steering and Governance Groups have been clear that they want the public service to work with disabled people and whānau. It's important that community trust is kept, and that engagement with disabled people and whānau continues.

A draft organisational structure and an induction pack on the culture have been prepared. These will be given to the new Chief Executive when they start. Exactly how the ministry will then run will be determined by the Chief Executive and team, who will engage the community to set the vision and direction.

Once the Ministry opens there will be transformation over time. This is the beginning of a journey – and staff and the community need to make that the journey. The staff won't start until 1 July and it's likely that it will take at least 18 months to really consolidate and transition.

Is there an appetite for a partnership rather than consultative approach to working with disabled people?

There needs to be deep engagement and different ways of working.

Disabled people have to trust officials to do what they say they will do, and public servants have to trust disabled people.

It needs us all as a community to understand that when you work in partnership you also need to have trust. The value we can bring as community is the understanding that there are many ways to influence change, e.g. some raise questions in the media, DPA policy analysts feed through changes needed etc.

The net needs to be thrown wide for conversations with a broad range of disabled people, and then there to be a push for change. It takes people with a wide range of skill sets, different attributes, and sets of knowledge. We need to be connecting with people nationwide and bringing the collective voice back through in a way that challenges the ministry to do things differently.

If people are moving from other ministries to the new ministry for disabled people then they are likely to bring attitudes with them. How do you train them to think differently? Because they need to to be successful in those roles.

That has been a big area of interest for the EU Community Steering and Governance Groups. A lot of thought has been put into various documents and processes. The culture will be different with an expectation to that the ministry works closely with tangata whaikaha Maori, disabled people, their families and whanau. Collective thought has been put into an induction pack and process. Induction packs have been given to staff considering whether to come across to the new ministry so that they have been able to make a decision about whether they want to work for the new ministry based on whether they think they will fit in with the culture. Developing the culture will be a gradual process.

How is the disabled community going to keep the ministry accountable?

One proposal for the new ministry is that disabled people contribute to and help to develop an evaluation process, a collective independent voice that would inform the ministry and hold it accountable to disabled people. Whether that goes ahead will be for the Chief Executive to decide – it’s all sitting ready in a briefing for the CE.

When will the new Chief Executive be announced?

We don’t know because the Public Service Commission can’t discuss anything while going through the recruitment process. Fingers crossed it will be announced 1 July. There could be an interim CE before the new CE is able to take on the role (bearing in mind they will need to give notice for any current position they may have).

Will there be a senior management team?

Apparently the proposed structure is currently confidential, but Gerri said, "the way of working will be different over time".

What are the practical ways that recruitment for ministry roles will prioritise the employment of disabled people? e.g. will there be more options for part time work?

There will be various ways of applying. The Community Steering and Governance Groups have pushed for flexible work options, for reasonable accommodations to be pushed to the max, and for people who may not quite have the required skill set to be scaffolded to grow into a role. The Ministry for Disabled People will be committed to having easy to follow and accessible recruitment processes.

DPA members voiced concern that the current HR processes for the public service are very inaccessible and that not only should the process be made accessible for the ministry for disabled people, but for the entire public service.

Is the plan for the ministry for disabled people to always sit under the Ministry of Social Development? Or to eventually be completely separate?

Things were weighed up under urgency following the Health and Disability System Review as disabled people were not catered for in the health reforms. At that time the Machinery of Government Working Group (which Gerri was part of) recommended an agency which sat on the Ministry of Social Development platform. An agency approach is quicker to set up as it taps into the functions of the host while it is getting stood up. While that was the recommendation then, it may be decided in the future that there is a better structure.

What will the transformation of disability support services look like for disabled people?

On 1 July current Disability Support Services will continue as usual. Transformation of support services will happen over time as providers are required to work in a way that means disabled people have choice and control over their lives. Rather than fit into a box, they will be able to choose how they wish to live their life and that’s enabled by the system.

Gerri lives in Hamilton where she has been involved with the Enabling Good Lives (EGL) demonstration, but that has been limited to 500 people. She hopes that as the system transformation is increased around the country, over time people will get access to a Kaitūhono/Connector, an ally that helps you identify your life goals, and access a personal budget so that you can get the things you need to build a good life.

Once people have gone through the process, people start to be supported to do what they want to do, whether that be to get a job, or to be able to go fishing with whānau. It's a strengths-based way of looking at how people want to live their lives.

With system transformation people will be able to choose supports and services they prefer, that will help drive change to an Enabling Good Lives way of working.

When any changes are planned people will receive communication in advance, so they know what is happening and when.

How does the new ministry see older people?

There is no work being done at the moment on changing eligibility criteria for disability support services – so the current situation with those over 65 mostly receiving support through the DHBs will remain.

The new ministry will have a policy team working across all Government agencies to ensure their systems are inclusive of disabled people; housing, transport, health etc

Who is dealing with people over 65?

For those receiving disability support through DHBs, it will move to Health NZ when the DHBs functions are merged into Health NZ.

When disabled people have been on Enabling Good Lives and then reach 65, community will have to say that they can’t lose that flexibility once they reach 65.

Is there an opportunity for the definition of disability to change for the disability support system?

It seems that eligibility criteria aren’t changing in short term. First DSS is being moved across to the new ministry, then when transformation starts the criteria may be considered. The new CE will be responsible for transformation of the disability support system.

The experience of the Mana Whaikaha MidCentral prototype was that there were an overwhelming number of people seeking support, far more than was anticipated – and all were eligible but had never accessed supports before due to the difficulty of the system. It is likely there will be huge demand when the system transformation is rolled out nationwide.

DPA notes that this is a huge concern among the community and that there is advocacy work being done on that outside of the establishment of the ministry, e.g. Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero’s call for a change to eligibility criteria so that everyone with FASD is eligible.

How do regions participate?

When the new ministry is up and running and EGL conversations go out to the regions ahead of system transformation, then there will be an opportunity for regions to join that voice.

Will the ministry for disabled people work with local government?

The intention is that the ministry for disabled people will work across all agencies. The ministry will also rely on communities working in partnership. We need to upskill disabled people to have the ability to make submissions and engage with local government.

Will New Zealand create a Disability Act similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act with more teeth and power?

There isn’t currently a plan to do that. The focus is currently on the Accessibility Act.

The disparity between those born with an impairment or acquire one through illness, and those who acquire one through an accident needs to be considered.

This is something that the community needs to continue to highlight. We need to collectively say this is unacceptable and needs to change.

*We haven't capitalised ministry for disabled people as the official names for the ministry are yet to be decided.