Liam Butler interviews Hon Nicky Wagner, Minister for Disability Issues

What are some of the concerns and needs of older disabled New Zealanders?

Hon Nicky Wagner:

Since becoming Minister for Disability Issues in October 2014, the past eight months have been both busy and rewarding. I have learned a lot about disabled people and the issues that concern them. I am passionate about contributing to positive change in disabled people’s everyday lives.

My focus is on disabled people having more choice and control in their lives and better opportunities.

One of the best things we can do straight of the bat for all older New Zealanders is to give them financial security through Superannuation. The after tax weekly rates of NZ Superannuation have gone up 31 per cent since 2008, which means a weekly increase of $136.40 for a married couple.

However we know that the challenges faced by older New Zealanders can be more significant for older people with disabilities.

The 2013 Disability Survey has a wealth of information about disabled people; I think good, robust data about disability is vital if we are to improve the lives of disabled people. And I want to highlight some of the key statistics for older disabled people.

Twenty-one percent of adults under 65 are disabled, compared with 59 percent of adults aged 65 or over.

In fact I often say to people that those of us who are not disabled are really just ‘currently-abled’ – none of us know how we will fare as we get older!

The 2013 Household Disability Survey also shows that when disabled and non-disabled people in the over 65 age group are compared:

•           17 percent of disabled people state that they do not have enough contact with non-resident family. The equivalent figure for non-disabled people is 13 percent.

•           Over 18 percent of disabled people admitted that they had occasionally felt lonely in the last four weeks, compared with close to 11 percent of non-disabled people in this age group.

•           46 percent of disabled people feel very safe/safe in the neighbourhood alone after dark, whereas 66 percent of non-disabled people feel the same level of safety.

•           Over 26 percent of disabled people state that their health is very good. The equivalent figure for their non-disabled peers is over 44 percent.

These figures suggest that older disabled New Zealanders face more challenges in everyday life than their non-disabled peers.

The Government in the current Disability Action Plan 2014-2018 has a focus on concrete, shared result areas that can begin to tackle some of the issues brought to light in the Disability Survey. I am confident that working through these shared result areas can make a positive difference in the daily lives of older disabled New Zealanders.

One key shared result area identified for implementation in the Disability Action Plan is promoting access for disabled people in the community. I understand how important it is to ensure that older disabled New Zealanders do not feel lonely and cut off from their neighbourhood and community, especially if family members live elsewhere and friends and neighbours have passed away. Another major shared result area identified for implementation is ensuring the personal safety of disabled children and adults in all settings.

The Office for Disability Issues will lead a review of the New Zealand Disability Strategy later this year. The Strategy has been in place for 14 years now and the review will help us gain an understanding of the common issues disabled people and older people face.

The increasing number of older disabled New Zealanders is going to affect us all in a very personal and intimate way. We all know someone, or will know someone, whether a family member, friend or neighbour, who is disabled in some way as they grow older. We all have a responsibility, including the Government and myself as Minister for Disability Issues, to ensure that older disabled people can live full and productive lives.

About Liam Butler