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Antipodean Edition

During a recent trip to the Antipodes, Peter White talked to Mary-Anne Diamond about the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to Teri McElroy about the Christchurch earthquake.

During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Peter White talked to Mary-Anne Diamond about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is due to be rolled out in Australia. The scheme is funded by tax payers and is paid out to those who need it, rather than the UK system of being a benefit which people are required to claim.
Neil Jarvis works for the National Foundation for the Blind in New Zealand and before moving there, lived in the UK. Neil explains the main differences between the two funding systems.
Peter also met Teri McElroy, who lives in Christchurch and experienced the city's major earthquake in 2011.
Teri describes to Peter how all her familiar landmarks were destroyed, making navigation for a blind person extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.

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20 minutes

Transcript

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

IN TOUCH – Antipodean Edition

TX:  24.10.2017  2040-2100

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:            CHERYL GABRIEL

White

Good evening.  I spent last week in Australia and New Zealand making a documentary but I also took the opportunity to see what’s happening to visually-impaired people on the other side of the world.  So tonight a different approach to welfare.  It’s based on the principle of insurance, rather than state pay-outs.  So will it work and could it have implications here?  

 

And what happens when you’re blind and caught up in a national emergency?

 

Clip

That gate used to come and meet up with the edge of the garage and there was a crack in the ground which when my paths were redone they’ve sealed it up again but you could actually feel how far the ground had moved because there was a split in the ground.  So things moved quite a lot.

 

Yeah they did didn’t they?

 

White

Teri McElroy, still picking up the pieces of her life after the devastation caused by the Christchurch earthquake over six years ago.

 

But first, most countries rich enough to contemplate it have recognised that being disabled costs money.  The need for special equipment, added transport costs, getting work done in the home which you can’t do yourself.  But deciding how to pay for that in a way that’s fair has posed a problem.  For the past 25 years, the UK has adopted the approach of state benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or DLA, now being replaced by PIPs, or Personal Independence Payments.  But if you receive either of those benefits, you won’t need me to tell you that almost since their introduction, there’s been bitter political debate about who should get them and at what financial level.

 

Well now Australia, faced with the challenge of coming up with a national solution rather than leaving it to its individual states, has embarked on a new radical approach based on the principle of social insurance rather than benefits.

 

Mary-Anne Diamond, of the national disability insurance scheme, and who is herself blind, has been telling me how the scheme is intended to work and what it will cover.

 

Diamond

It’s not about a list of services that people choose or select from, it is about people with disabilities thinking about what their own goals are as an individual and what supports they might need to achieve them.  So, for example, I might have a goal of employment – I want a job, you know, that’s a big one for people who are blind with high, high unemployment figures in this country.  So then if we have a conversation about well what is a blind person – if I want to achieve employment – what kind of supports would I need?  I might need some ONM training to move about the community independently…

 

White

That’s like – just mobility training?

 

Diamond

Yes sorry, yeah.  I might need some assistive technology, whether it be JAWS or ZOOM TEXT or whatever.  I might need some work experience.  So there’s a whole lot of supports that you might have to achieve your goal.

 

White

There are so many of those, I’m just trying to visualise how this would work because I mean people – if it’s about what you need and what you think you need – I mean some people think they need more than others – and if you’re left to assess it how can that actually get delivered in a fair way?

 

Diamond

So the legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme calls it – people will be provided the supports they require that are reasonable and necessary.

 

White

And who decides what’s reasonable and necessary?

 

Diamond

Well that is through a conversation because it’s very individual.  But what you want and what you might need aren’t always the same thing. 

 

White

That’s my point.

 

Diamond

No, but that’s why it’s individual and it’s conversation based.

 

White

So you could say I need to get out more, I need to go to the ball game, I need to… I mean…

 

Diamond

Yeah exactly, no so exactly.  You might say well one of my goals is to be independent in the community, I want to participate in my community.  So what does that mean?  I might have someone come with me the first time I go to the ball game.  Sometimes you may need a couple of support sessions, sometimes you may need an ongoing support sessions, depending on what your need is.

 

White

So is it working?

 

Diamond

Well it’s too early to tell.  Well I would say yes, there is evidence that people are getting supports and services in a way they were not before, many people coming in to the scheme who have never received a service before.  Over a 100,000 people are currently on the scheme and by 2019 we expect 460,000.

 

White

You said a very interesting thing, you said if you get stuff delivered early then that will lessen the need for help later on.  Can you just explain what that means and how that might work?

 

Diamond

Okay so what we identified quite early is that if we were able to provide supports to families and children between the age of zero and six, especially those with developmental delays and so on, they may get those supports and no longer need such intensive support as they’re getting older.  If we provide support to someone who goes blind soon after they go blind then we may not be supporting them intensively for the rest of their lives because we all might learn skills and so on.  So it is about early intervention, whether it be children or when someone first acquires a disability is really, as we know, important.

 

White

So how’s it paid for?

 

Diamond

So it’s paid for by the monies from the state governments and territory governments and Commonwealth pooling all their disability services money together to run a national scheme.  And all Australians who pay a – we call it medi-bank which is our national health insurance scheme, a levy on our health insurance towards the cost of the NDS.  It is estimated that the scheme will cost $22 billion a year, once everyone’s on the scheme and that there’s no evidence to say that that is still not the case, we have a lot of data collected by our actuaries all the time and the productivity commission will probably come out saying that seems to be the best estimates to date.

 

White

So in theory it’s paid for by everybody, does that mean it’s not contributory, it’s not that you have had to contribute, it’s not like paying into an insurance scheme?

 

Diamond

That’s right, we don’t pay into an insurance scheme, like some countries do.  Our medi-care levy for our national health insurance scheme is paid by all taxpayers.  Now if you don’t have a job and you don’t pay tax then you don’t contribute…

 

White

But you might be just the person who would need it?

 

Diamond

That’s right and you’re still entitled to it.  There’s no thing – you didn’t make a contribution, you’re not entitled – it is entitlement to all Australians.

 

White

Right.  But it still seems to me that it could be the people who are best able to make a case for themselves will be the people who do best out of this kind of scheme.

 

Diamond

Well yes but equally what we’re seeing so far is that the people who come to their planning conversation, who have done some preparation and thinking are the ones who are doing quite well and getting the needs they want.  And I just want to emphasise and I said at the convention and that is we shouldn’t measure success on how many dollars you get, it’s on outcomes.  So just because you need something as a blind person may not be the same as I need as a blind person.

 

White

So just one more question:  How does this relate to benefits?   I mean is this an attempt to replace the benefit scheme in the end, benefits for visually-impaired people?

 

Diamond

So in Australia we have a Disability Support Pension and we have a category of that called Disability Support Blind and it does not impact on our income we earn.  That has nothing to do with this scheme.  So it’s not there to replace it, the scheme is there to replace what used to be service providing organisations getting block money from state governments to provide services.  This is about the money operated from a national level for supports and services but in the control of the person with disability.

 

White

Mary-Anne Diamond.

 

Well, Neil Jarvis has been watching developments with interest.  Neil left Britain for New Zealand to take up a role planning strategy for its Royal Foundation of The Blind, that’s their equivalent of our RNIB.  And New Zealand is watching its neighbours’ new experiment with interest.  So, does he think it’s affordable?

 

Jarvis

What we’re definitely already seeing is an explosion of take up, which from our perspective as disabled people is fantastic, it means that disabled people are actually taking up something which they really should have had access to all along.  But your question is apposite, I think, because someone’s going to have to pay for this and I think my worry is that they will rob Peter to pay Paul.  And we’re already seeing examples of that where we know of advocacy organisations in places like New South Wales that are losing funding at the end of this financial year precisely because someone’s got to find money to pay for the NDIS.  And it’s advocacy organisations that will actually assist disabled people to get what they need out of the system.  So that’s somewhat ironic.

 

White

Do you think this has an application – is this something that we should be watching in the UK, given that we’ve got a system already?

 

Jarvis

I do, I think that the potential is brilliant.  I think every single disabled person’s organisation and every disabled person I know in Australia is very much in favour of the NDIS.  What they are not in favour of is some of the practical limitations that already appear to be coming in and this is a scheme that’s barely a few months old in terms of the national rollout and already it’s being undermined.  And that so often is the case we find with things that are designed for us.  So I think that we need to be not only watching out for what’s potentially a really, really good scheme but also watch out for what the pitfalls might be so that you can do it better in the UK and we can do it better in New Zealand.  I remember, as you will, 20-25 years ago, when blind people got access to DLA for the first time, after the Mallinson case and again the explosion in take up of DLA, quite rightly, but government never planned for that and consequently there was – the application process became a nightmare for many disabled people.  And we don’t want to see that happening.  So we hope that the process will be thought out properly, planned properly and delivered properly.  If it is it’ll be a fantastic system.  If it’s not, it’ll just be another bureaucratic nightmare.

 

White

Meanwhile, New Zealand itself has pre-occupations.  I don’t know about you but occasionally I’ve anxiously speculated about how, as a totally blind person, I would cope if caught up in a real emergency.  Hasn’t happened to me yet but most of us hope we’ll never have to find out.  But in February 2011 many visually-impaired New Zealanders in the city of Christchurch were forced to confront that reality when an earthquake struck.  It cost 185 lives and it totally changed the landscape of the city they had known all their lives.

 

Well one of those embroiled in the event was Teri McElroy.  Teri is blind and she lives alone.  Well last week I went to see her and even before I got inside her front door it became obvious that even after more than six years she was still dealing with the fallout from what happened that day.

 

McElroy

That gate used to come and meet up with the edge of the garage and there was a crack in the ground which when my paths were redone they’ve sealed it up again but you could actually feel how far the ground had moved because there was a split in the ground.  So things moved quite a lot.

 

White

Yeah they did didn’t they?

 

White

Teri, accompanied by Christchurch’s signature soundtrack, that of constant building work going on.  Well once inside Teri told me what happened to her on what began as just an ordinary day.

 

McElroy

I was at the Blind Foundation doing a computer course and we were down in the lunch room and I had stood up to go and put something in the rubbish and the ground started shaking.  And I said – Oho – and I quickly stepped across, put my paper in the rubbish bin, and went back to the table.  And then by that stage I was at the end of the table going back to where my guide dog was and the ground was shaking so much that all I could do was sit down and hang on to the table legs.  And it went on for quite a while and there was just this feeling of the ground was like big waves.  We had had other little ones in Christchurch but nothing significant.  It took us about two and a half or three hours to get home by car.  We were driving through big amounts of water and it was something like I’d never been through anything like that before.

 

White

And did you know there were casualties?

 

McElroy

Not at that stage, unfortunately we got the car without the radio so we couldn’t have radio updates at that stage.  And the phone network was absolutely jammed.  I’d tried several times just to call my family or my neighbour to let someone know that I was okay and see if they were.  When I got back here liquefaction had occurred, liquefaction is the process of what the sediment that comes out of the ground.  My driveway, there was liquefaction all over the place, so it was like this thick muddy sort of goop.  And when I got into the house there wasn’t a lot of damage to the house itself but there were things that had fallen on the floor and broken.  I chose to stay here rather than go and stay somewhere else.  My guide dog got on my bed because that’s where he felt safe.

 

White

What did it feel like to find your house like that?

 

McElroy

Quite nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what I was going to find.  When I first walked in the gate the gate was jammed because the ground had moved and so the gate wouldn’t open.  When we did get it open it wouldn’t then shut.  And it was nerve-wracking because you’ve got everything in your house that you – some things you have an emotional attachment or a sentimental attachment to and you just don’t know what you’re going to find.  Is your radio going to be broken?

 

White

Well that’s a very typical reaction of a blind person isn’t it, you – I understand how you feel.  You start thinking about equipment, stuff that you need to stay in touch – radio, computer I guess.

 

McElroy

I started thinking about practical things, there was no power, no water – the water we would have had to boil it.  But it was stressful for everybody because you never knew when the next quake was coming.  And so I would take a breath and just let it out and try and just keep going.

 

It was interesting too because it was like this big animal shaking itself.  Most of the time I would be inside when the quakes happened and so the house would rattle and things like that.  But occasionally I happened to be outside and the earth would just sort of shudder, it was quite an interesting phenomenon really.

 

White

Interesting?

 

McElroy

Yeah.

 

White

Were you scared?

 

McElroy

No.

 

White

Why not?

 

McElroy

Everyone’s got their own different story and I think if I had been hurt or entrapped somewhere it might have been a different story for me but I wasn’t and so it wasn’t scary for me.

 

White

I mean in a way that’s the day itself.  I understand really that the real effects for you have come afterwards.

 

McElroy

That’s correct, yes.  All the places that I could get to independently were just gone or inaccessible.  I often used to go into the centre of Christchurch to the central library or other destinations and that area was just – you just couldn’t go there, it was fenced off, it was out of bounds, because buildings were unsafe.  Our supermarket was completely trashed, it took 18 months to rebuild it, so to be able to go and get groceries and things like that it was a bus trip.  And I wouldn’t go to places by myself, going to a shopping mall with someone which has big high shelves and things I felt quite claustrophobic and I just wanted to get home, it was the noise, the smell of the traffic fumes, the busyness, it just made me want to get home again.

 

White

In a way that you never had before?

 

McElroy

Yes.  And I don’t feel like that now.  But that was some of the after effects of the quake for me and some of that is still the case now, like I don’t go into the centre of the city by myself because there’s still a lot of work happening and also because at the moment I don’t have a guide dog, I don’t feel as confident to go out with my white cane.

 

If I dwell on it too much I can get quite sad and depressed about it but you just have to look forward I think.  And one of the things that was quite stressful was dealing with all the after repairs and things like that because there wasn’t enough support of the right sort to get things done.  When you walked up here you may have seen the disgusting state of the driveway, that is repaired and it’s not really very good.  And it’s just having to deal with all that very stressful moving out of my house for repairs.  So it didn’t just happen for like six months, it went on and it’s those low level things that can drag on and on that can actually get really stressful.

 

White

Teri McElroy, trying to make the best of things.

 

Well finally today, back on British soil, we’ve got some stop press news for you.  Last February my guest on this programme was Sally Harvey, who was then acting RNIB Chief Executive.  We were discussing the RNIB’s search for a permanent CEO.

 

Clip

White

Are you likely to apply?

 

Harvey

Big question and I’m going to say yes at this point in time because I’m hugely proud, it’s a fantastic privilege to be RNIB’s Chief Executive and why wouldn’t I want to take that role and make a difference to people’s lives.  So absolutely.

 

White

Well we’ve heard today that Sally has finally got the job with the RNIB at what she describes as a turning point.  We’ve already invited her on to the programme to discuss that turning point.  We hope to be talking to Sally very soon.  

 

That’s it for today.  From me, Peter White, producer Cheryl Gabriel and the team goodbye.

 

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