Parents have rights, too

15/05/2012 § 3 Comments

Slowly, slowly, the parents of disabled adults are having their rights recognised. This case started in 1999 (that’s 13 years!) with the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which found that government policy was discriminating against parents who care for their disabled adult children. The government appealed, and has now lost in the High Court and the Court of Appeals. News reports are not clear on whether the Ministry will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The issue is whether these parents are entitled to be paid for the work they do. The courts have found that they should be paid, and that the Ministry of Health is violating their right to equal treatment by refusing their wages. Two points to make:

  • the people receiving care are adults, not minors. This is not about parents caring for their minor children
  • if the carers were not the parents of the people receiving care, then they would be paid by the Ministry for their work.

This case shows how personal relationships and economic transactions become confused. In a sense, we can’t help it. We go into business with family, regardless of all advice to the contrary. Families end up with jointly owned properties, like baches or family farms. ‘Natural love and affection’ provide some glue to the relationship. The real test comes when the economic side turns sour. In these sorts of voluntary arrangements, we can think of the personal relationship as both an input and an output. It is an input, because it can improve co-operation and co-ordination amongst individuals. It can also be an output, if the people involved value working with their family members and having each other around. That is, they may accept a lower monetary wage because of the psychic benefits.

In the situation at issue in this case, the Ministry is purposely reducing its costs by exploiting parents’ concern for their children. One of the main concerns raised by the Ministry is the increased costs it would face by changing the rules. It is putting its own monetary value on these personal relationships. Not only is this crass, but the courts have again found that it is illegal.

DISCLOSURE: I have family members in a similar situation, although I have no stake in this particular case.


§ 3 Responses to Parents have rights, too

  • JC says:

    My thought, and I suspect the MoH nightmare, is that there’s little difference between a parent with a disabled adult child and a wife with a disabled husband or an adult looking after a parent or relative with dementia.

    Similarly, there’s little difference between a disabled victim of an accident who gets ACC and a person disabled with a neurological disease who must live with just a invalid benefit.

    In short, losing the current case reopens the above inequities.


    • Bill says:

      The thing I’d add to that, though, is that ACC is a separate issue. Different organisation, different funding. Also, they do fund at least some parental carers.

  • Ann says:

    This is a case of Ministry of Health policy discriminating, exploiting and harassing families with disabilities, who desperately required Ministry of Health assessed help.
    Shame on the Ministry of Health, who caused this unlawful battle; and Crown Law and those parliamentarians who allowed it to continue.
    The ongoing legal process that these families suffered, whilst under daily duress, caused significant humiliation, embarrassment and further distress. Added to this was the avoidable legal costs to the taxpayer.
    Ministry of Health officials had no moral or legal authority to autocratically and arbitrarily make this policy; and they failed in their duty of care to provide essential help to these families.
    The Ministry of Health policy makers did not have the necessary professional qualifications or experience to make this unsafe and unlawful policy. Those concerned should be made accountable for their harmful actions and abuse of power.
    These gutsy, exhausted families who under significant daily duress, stood firm against the authorities that they had depended on; believed that justice although delayed, would ultimately prevail. Most of them do not have longevity (one has already died), so it is a shame that they will not be benefitting as much as they should.
    Thank goodness for all the diligent and dedicated staff from the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, especially the Barristers, Frances Joychild and David Peirce and to the Human Rights witnesses and supporters; and to all eleven eminent and wise Judges for doing the right thing and repeatedly making the legal and honourable decision!

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