I rise on behalf of the Green Party to talk about inequality and disability.
The recent census showed that nearly one in four New Zealanders lives with a disability—up from one in five in the previous census. These figures include some of the most marginalised people in New Zealand, especially those who have had a disability since birth.
Disabled people are seriously under-represented in paid employment, and it is where correspondingly higher levels of poverty are to be found. This poverty is absolutely dire for many disabled people, who often have no resources and no buffers to cope with a long-term lack of income.
The figures are stark. For example, let us look at homeownership. In New Zealand the rate of homeownership for the average population is 64.8 percent. In contrast, only 52 percent of disabled adults own or partly own a home. However, when we look at those who have been disabled from birth, the rate of homeownership drops to 27 percent. That is less than half the rate of the average population. Can you imagine the outcry that would exist if fewer than one in three New Zealanders owned their own home? And yet that is the reality for those who live with a disability from birth.
It shows just how systematic the barriers are that disabled people face in every level of society, from birth onwards, and they end up being unable to access their own home.
As a signatory to the *United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government has an absolute responsibility to step up and remove barriers to participation for disabled people. It must take this responsibility seriously. Disabled people do have so much that they can contribute, but they are locked out of paid employment and face a lifetime of rejection. No matter how skilled or qualified they become, they still face rejection and difficulty accessing paid employment. I have spoken with disabled people throughout the country who are desperate to be active, productive participants in the paid workforce and many have valuable skills.
*Be Accessible, which is an organisation that works on disability issues, estimates that the opportunity costs of workplace exclusion of people with disabilities is $11.7 billion in New Zealand. That is the economic value of the work that they could be contributing but are not able to, because of the barriers that are in place to paid employment. One of the immediate steps that this Government could take is to step up and prioritise providing paid employment opportunities to disabled people. One obvious place where the Government can start is in the public sector. A best-practice model from the Government in employment in the public sector will have massive direct benefits, and also serve as an encouragement for the private sector to follow suit.
The public sector still remains the biggest employer in New Zealand, with over 36,000 front-line paid staff. At the moment most Government departments do not have active specific initiatives aimed at identifying and recruiting people with disabilities, even just into the potential labour pool. That means that many disabled people do not even get a foot in the door. It is time for the Government to step up.
What the Green Party believes is that the public sector needs to lead the way by being a positive employer for disabled people by amending the State Sector Act to put a stronger emphasis on the responsibility of the State sector to give disabled people an equal chance to get a job, and in doing so is the act of thinking about how we can do this. How can we remove barriers? This will become more aware and set up a positive cycle of reinforcement.
This is something that I would like the Government to absolutely look into seriously. It is something that disabled people have called for, time and time again, because they have had so many flow-through effects on the whole culture and attitude of the country as a whole towards disabled people, towards recognising our skills and our abilities, and getting them actively included into the economy and into Government. Thank you.