Proactive release: Working together to support disabled people's resilience and aspirations through COVID-19

This Oral item was presented on the issues the disability community have been facing during the COVID-19 pandemic by Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Disability Issues. An Aide-mémoire and A3, focused on working together to support disabled people’s resilience and aspirations through COVID-19, were provided to support the Oral Item.

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Oral Item: Working together to support disabled people’s resilience and aspirations through COVID-19

Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Disability Issues

The following Cabinet documents have been proactively released.

  • 6/5/2020, A3: Working together to support disabled people’s resilience and aspirations through COVID-19
  • 8/5/2020, Aide-mémoire: Working together to support disabled people’s resilience and aspirations through COVID-19
  • 13/5/2020, Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee minute: SWC-20-MIN-0037
  • 18/5/2020, Cabinet minute: CAB-20-MIN-0229.

Some parts of this information release would not be appropriate to release and, if requested, would be withheld under the Official Information Act 1982 (the Act). Where this is the case, the relevant sections of the Act that would apply have been identified. Where information has been withheld, no public interest has been identified that would outweigh the reasons for withholding it. This is the key to the redaction codes used for this release:

  • Section 9(2)(a) – to protect the privacy of natural persons
  • Section 9(2)(f)(iv) – the confidentiality of advice under active consideration
  • Out of scope – material unrelated to the information released.

© Crown Copyright, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Search Tags: Oral presentation to SWC on: How life is going for the disability community during COVID-19?

A3: Working together

The poor socio-economic outcomes already experienced by disabled people, and opportunities to exercise choice and control, are at risk to a disproportionate level due to the impacts of COVID-19. They are facing additional barriers and it is crucial we support them through this time.

Key needs

Our responses

Provide accessible communication and information. Timely information that can be understood by all New Zealanders is essential for people to make decisions about how to protect themselves and others.

The Ministry of Health (MoH), the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) work closely with Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs) to ensure that COVID-19 information is made accessible and available in a timely way. MOH convene a Disability Communications Advisory Group to provide communication in a range of accessible formats.


Remove additional barriers to essential support and participation due to containment measures. Measures to respond to COVID-19 can make access to essential items and community participation more difficult.


MSD is considering what the additional barriers of social isolation, and other on-going impacts of COVID-19, are for disabled people. It is vital to ensure appropriate support is in place for disabled people to continue to access the essential items they need including food and PPE, as well as access to employment and education. The MoH Disability Directorate continues to work with disability providers to improve access to PPE.


Respond to the fact that disabled people will be further disadvantaged. This includes areas of employment, education and housing.


MSD is undertaking wider work on its future direction and resetting the welfare system as alert levels are lowered. In all aspects of this work, the needs of disabled people will need to be considered, whether this is through ensuring mainstream services and supports are accessible , or in developing specialist disability supports and services. At the same time, the NGO sector and DPOs have worked locally with others to ensure disabled people's needs are being met during lock-down.


Address lasting impacts of sustained isolation. Some disabled people will need to
remain self-isolated for sustained periods due to
their greater vulnerability to COVID-19. The impact of isolation on mental health and wellbeing should not be underestimated.


MSD is considering the impacts of social isolation on disabled people who need to self-isolate for sustained periods or who may experience moving through the levels differently due to the impact of a disability. Ensuring appropriate measures are in place to support disabled people's future participation in their community on the same basis as others throughout the COVID response is vital to their wellbeing and inclusion to reduce further disadvantage. The Joint Venture family abuse and sexual abuse work programme will consider the needs of disabled people with support from 001 and advocacy on behalf of disabled people subjected to violence and abuse.


Respond to risks to the financial long-term viability of disability providers. For those who provide essential services, as they reconfigure services, as well as disability employment providers.


Disability providers play an important role in supporting disabled people to participate in their communities, find and maintain employment and access essential services. MSD are working to free up capacity in the disability sector by looking at more flexible individualised funding so that more disabled people and whānau can use it. Wider work within MSD is looking at the future state of government social services.


Collect data and evidence. There is a lack of data to provide information on the needs of disabled people.


The Office of Disability Issues (001) has a weekly disability online survey, checking in on how life is going during the COVID-19 event. The results of the survey will help officials to monitor issues such as well-being; access to PPE, COVID-19 information; the impact of changes to services; essential supplies (i.e. food and medication); and how safe disabled people are feeling. This survey is one way to help to fill gaps in data and evidence. Across government senior officials have been maintaining a risk/issues register for disabled people and monitoring the actions to address those risks/issues.

 Opportunities for an accessible future 

Accessibility is about removing and preventing barriers in areas of life such as the built environment, transport, information and communications, and goods and services. It is a pre-condition to disabled people realising their rights. 

Designing for accessibility not only brings benefits for disabled people, but also other groups who may be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as older people, Māori and Pacific Peoples and speakers of English as a second language. A more accessible New Zealand will bring broader social and economic benefits.

We have a unique opportunity to support a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy through accelerating accessibility in New Zealand. It is also an opportunity to make New Zealand a global leader in this space through a whole of government approach:

  • [Redacted under s 9(2)(f)(iv)]

Importance of disabled people's perspectives and better cross government administrative data 

It is crucial to include disabled people and their representative groups in decisions that impact on their lives. As we respond to these unprecedented times, we have an opportunity to include disabled
people's perspectives in our decision making about the future. ODI works closely with DPOs on all their work, and I meet regularly with the DPO Coalition. It is vital that all agencies and COVID-19 responses
collect data to ensure disable people are accessing services.

Aide memoire

Cabinet committee meeting
Date: 8 May 2020 Security Level: IN CONFIDENCE
For: Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Disability Issues
File Reference: A12505828, REP/20/5/499

Working together to support disabled people’s resilience and aspirations through COVID-19

Cabinet Committee
Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee
10.30am-11.30am, Wednesday 13 May 2020, Cabinet Committee
Meeting Room 8.5 EW

Purpose of meeting

You will present an update to SWC committee members on the issues the disability community are facing during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Talking points


  • The purpose of this item is to make sure disabled people are front of mind, while we continue to make decisions at pace to respond to COVID-19.
  • Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting regularly with key groups in the disability sector, including the Disabled People’s Organisations Coalition, the Disability Rights Commissioner, as well as a mixture of providers. I have also been receiving regular reports from Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health and Office for Disability Issues (ODI) officials.
  • The A3 I have provided you with gives an overview of the key needs we must ensure are met while we respond to COVID. The A3 also includes some of the responses thathave been developed by government agencies, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and other NGOs in the disability sector.
  • I will quickly talk you through some of the key needs of disabled people, as well as the anecdotes I have heard from the sector.

Accessible information

  • Providing accessible communications and information such as Easy Read, NZSL translations and accessible formats for blind and low vision citizens have been a challenge throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • DPOs have been working through the All of Government Communications hub to develop information in accessible formats.
  • The move from Level 4 to Level 3 was challenging, with a lack of “real time” information being available for disabled people and their families, creating greater uncertainty in what is already an uncertain time.
  • Additionally, DPOs feel that this delay puts the reputation of both themselves, and the others involved in this work, at risk.
  • I understand that the communications for the transition from Level 3 to 2 have been a lot smoother, with multiple agencies feeding into this guidance. It is heartening to hear that this is improving.
  • It is also important for our agencies to think about how we are communicating with people who are unable to access digital media, and to make sure we are reaching all the people who require information.

Removing barriers to essential support and participation measures

  • It is critical to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to support disabled people in the community, employment and education.
  • Minister Martin, Minister Salesa and I met on Friday to discuss the barriers preventing disabled children, particularly those with high and complex needs from returning to school, and from accessing the education supports they need at home.
  • I continue to hear from disabled people, providers and carers that they are not able to access the Personal Protective Equipment they need to feel safe, and that they are also unable to access the services they need, such as supermarkets and GP appointments.
  • We need to make sure that the right supports are in place for people who want to return to the wider community, but also that the supports are available for people who need to isolate for longer.

Respond to the fact that disabled people will be further disadvantaged

  • As we continue to respond to COVID-19, it is important to recognise that disabled people often earn low incomes, are underemployed and have poorer health outcomes.
  • It is important to remember when developing new ideas and policies to help support people during the COVID-19 response, that we think how we can ensure disabled people are able to access these.

Collect data and evidence

  • There has been no way of identifying whether disabled people are accessing across government COVID-19 0800 helplines and supports.
  • This information would have been useful to give confidence that the needs of disabled people are being met, for example, responding to the additional vulnerabilities of disabled women subjected to family violence and sexual violence.
  • I am aware that there is still out-calling and surveys being undertaken related to COVID-19. It is not too late to include a question that asks if those participating in a survey or accessing a service are disabled.

Office for Disability Issues’ online disability survey

  • One of the ways that we have been able to hear from disabled people during this time is through an online survey.
  • ODI developed this survey to assist in understanding the issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic being experienced by disabled people and their family and whānau.
  • The survey will be repeated several times so that progress on risks and issues for disabled New Zealanders can be tracked over time. I will be releasing the first high level summary of the survey results to the disability sector in the coming weeks.
  • Over the first week, 655 disabled people and 112 service providers responded.
  • The survey has provided useful insights on how those who participated in the survey are coping in the COVID-19 context. We know that most people who have responded to the survey are doing okay, or very well.
  • The survey results speak to the resilience of disabled people and those organisations providing services and support. There are ongoing issues for the disability community requiring decisive action by Government.
  • To enable more people to participate, ODI has funded representatives of DPOs and other NGOs to phone disabled people without internet access to participate in the survey.
  • However, we also know that the survey results do not speak to a group of disabled people who are without internet access, or who are not linked in with their DPO.

Ongoing whole of government action required to meet the needs of disabled people

  • Although the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the barriers that disabled people face in our society, it also provides us with an opportunity to do things better.
  • The COVID-19 response is an opportunity to make tangible progress toward a more accessible New Zealand right now. We have a unique opportunity to support a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy through accelerating accessibility in New Zealand.
  • [Redacted s 9(2)(a)] It is an important reminder that frontline mainstream services are too often unprepared to provide for disabled people. 
  • Designing for accessibility brings benefits for disabled people, and other groups who may be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as older people, Māori, Pacific Peoples and speakers of English as a second language.
  • The best way to do this is to make sure disabled people are at the decision-making table and that we remember the mantra “nothing about us, without us”. We need to ensure government agencies are working with disabled people and their representatives when developing new policies and strategies.
  • We are seeing the emergence of positive partnerships between disability sector representatives and government agencies. This is encouraging for future collaboration.


  • I am deeply committed to improving disabled New Zealanders’ socio-economic outcomes so that they can enjoy a good quality of life like other New Zealanders.
  • Thank you, colleagues, for your attention.

Author: [redacted under s 9(2)(a)] Advisor, Office for Disability Issues
Responsible Manager: [redacted under s 9(2)(a)] Director, Office for Disability Issues. 

Appendix 1: Key messages from "How is life going for the disability community?" survey, Week 1

  • The purpose of the survey is to understand the issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic being experienced by disabled people and their whānau/families. The survey also collects information from service providers and others in the disability sector.
  • The survey results speak to the overall resilience of the disability community and those who provide services and support despite the additional barriers and risks to well-being, choice and control, and economic well-being that are exacerbated within the COVID 19 context.
  • The survey results are one important view on the lives of disabled people in the COVID 19 context. These results sit alongside the issues that have been highlighted through disabled people’s representative organisations, other nongovernment organisations, the Disability Rights Commissioner and service providers who are in regular and direct contact with disabled people and their families.
  • Although close to 30% of the respondents felt lonely some of the time, missing extended family and friends, they also spoke of a supportive environment during the period of enforced seclusion.
  • Feedback from respondents shows that, for a majority, systems in place in both the public and private sectors are working to ensure they have access to food. 68% of respondents reported it was easy or super easy to access supplies. Systems like priority slots for supermarket deliveries and food box companies were cited as helpful.
  • Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was seen by respondents to be an issue when it came to feeling safe. Care workers were especially affected by this. Perceptions of equipment being sold out or not available in correct sizes match reports from other communities. The Ministry of Health is continuing to work to ensure that PPE is available to all those who need it.
  • Amongst respondents, over half said it was very easy to access critical information about COVID-19. The number of respondents indicating that it was “hard” to find information about COVID-19 was low for all survey respondents. The overall theme of the comments was that they accessed information primarily online and by watching television. We will continue our work to make sure that information is in accessible formats and easy to understand.
  • It is important to recognise the inherent bias in this survey, as the majority of responses were completed online. Digital exclusion is around 17% in the disabled community, as opposed to 5% in the general population. For this reason, and because of the self-selected nature of survey participation, we regard this survey as a snapshot of life, rather than perfect data.

Appendix 2 – Issues raised by the Disabled People’s Organisations Coalition during the COVID-19 pandemic

Various concerns of disabled people in the COVID-19 context have been conveyed
to the Disabled People’s Organisations Coalition. These concerns include:

  • Lack of accessible communications and information - There continues to be a lack of understanding that accessibility includes the placement of information on government websites when it is made available in a range of alternate formats. The lack of understanding of the need for hard copy alternate formats to be available for disabled people without internet access/digital technology is also a matter of serious concern.
  • Accessing GPs (eg, via telephone appointments) for treatment for physical ailments unrelated to COVID-19 is a challenge. As a result, there are disabled people not seeking medical treatment who need it.
  • Social isolation - For those without internet access, being unable, for example, to attend community social groups and meetings, visit family/whānau and friends etc is distressing.
  • Accessing services face-to-face - Lack of face-to-face time with service providers and government agencies like Work and Income.
  • Stress and anxiety - Finding appropriate methods of coping with stress, anxiety, anger and social isolation is a challenge, given that the usual community networks are unavailable. 

Cabinet minute SWC-20-MIN-0037

Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee
Minute of Decision

This document contains information for the New Zealand Cabinet. It must be treated in confidence and
handled in accordance with any security classification, or other endorsement. The information can only be
released, including under the Official Information Act 1982, by persons with the appropriate authority.

Oral Item: Working Together to Support Disabled People’s Resilience and Aspiration Through COVID-19

Portfolio:  Disability Issues

On 13 May 2020, the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee:

  1. noted the briefing from the Minister for Disability Issues that disabled people are at-risk to a disproportionate level and are facing additional barriers due to the impacts of COVID-19, and it is crucial that government support them through this time;
  2. noted the range of work underway to provide additional support to disabled people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vivien Meek
Committee Secretary

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern (Chair)
Hon Kelvin Davis
Hon Grant Robertson
Hon Phil Twyford
Hon Dr Megan Woods
Hon Carmel Sepuloni
Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Hon Stuart Nash
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway
Hon Kris Faafoi
Hon Dr David Clark
Hon Tracey Martin
Hon Willie Jackson
Hon Peeni Henare
Hon Aupito William Sio
Hon Poto Williams
Hon Julie Anne Genter

Officials present from: 
Office of the Prime Minister
Officials Committee for SWC
Director General of Health

Cabinet minute CAB-20-MIN-0229

Cabinet Minute of Decision

This document contains information for the New Zealand Cabinet. It must be treated in confidence and
handled in accordance with any security classification, or other endorsement. The information can only be
released, including under the Official Information Act 1982, by persons with the appropriate authority.

Report of the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee: Period Ended 15 May 2020

On 18 May 2020, Cabinet made the following decisions on the work of the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee for the period ended 15 May 2020:

[Redacted - out of scope]

Michael Webster
Secretary of the Cabinet

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