1 May 2015

Voucher system sparks fears of privatisation

1:00 pm on 1 May 2015

The Labour Party is accusing the Government of trying to privatise the public sector with its plan to provide vouchers to people on welfare.

Finance Minister Bill English in question time.

Bill English (file) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Finance Minister Bill English yesterday confirmed the Government is establishing a system to fund services for people with disabilities.

The Government has been trialling the programme, Enabling Good Lives, in Waikato and Christchurch.

Under the policy money goes to people with disabilities, or their families, to buy support from service providers of their choice.

Mr English told Parliament that the disability sector had "broadly welcomed" the programme because it gave people with disabilities some choices. The success of a similar voucher system in Australia showed New Zealand needed one too, he said.

The Labour Party supports the Enabling Good Lives initiative but is worried a New Zealand Productivity Commission draft report on social services could lead to the privatisation of all social services.

"A real concern is that we want clients to be at the centre of any service provision, not competition and the competitive market and getting the competitive edge between providers," social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni said.

Carmel Sepuloni

Carmel Sepuloni Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The Maori Party said it was a flagship policy under former co-leader and Disability Minister Tariana Turia and it would continue to support the policy it as long as it is was implemented as it was intended.

Co-leader Marama Fox said the voucher system was born out of talks with the disability community.

"So, it has come directly from those groups of people who are intimately affected through disabilities in their lives," she said.

"You must trust the people that they know what they are talking about and if the people have said this is what they would prefer, then let's give that a go."

ACT has long pushed for a voucher system for education to fund students rather than schools and leader David Seymour said his only reservation would be around privacy and possible data sharing between departments.

He said, in principle, vouchers also made sense for the disability sector.

"Well, what you would see is somebody who might, for instance, have a child with autism given some funding to care for the kid and being able to take that to a range of providers rather than being told 'here's the service you're getting, maybe it suits you, maybe it doesn't'."

This week, a draft Productivity Commission report on effective social services recommended users be given a greater say in the services they receive, while government departments should take a step back.

It also recommended much more decentralised services, including possible competing insurance-based systems such as ACC.

Voucher scheme 'needs work'

Chief executive of CCS Disability Action David Matthews said the scheme in Christchurch had not been as successful as they had hoped.

He feared people would not be able to afford the services they needed with the money they were given.

Mr Matthews said relationships with current service providers had been strained, the role of new case managers was unclear, and the level of bureaucracy had grown.

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