Funding cut may cost job
Cerebral palsy never stopped Blair Nevin working, but a Ministry of Social Development funding cut might. Joel Ineson reports.
Blair Nevin just wants to go to work at the same place he has for the past 18 years.
His employer wants him there, too, but the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has phased out the funding that pays his wages, which means he may solely become a beneficiary.
Nevin, 39, has lived his life with cerebral palsy. He has limited mobility due to partial paralysis and does not speak, typing into his phone to communicate with others.
It has never stopped him wanting to go to work. Because of his limited abilities, a MSD-funded scheme, Workbridge, paid his wages.
He picked up rubbish and swept at Christchurch’s Spreydon School using special tools and a wheelbarrow made for him.
‘‘Blair doesn’t like sitting at home getting money for nothing,’’ his mother, Sue Nevin, said.
‘‘He feels like he’s part of the community and, like everybody else, has a job and works. He’s done it for 18 years, so it’s been a big part of his life.’’
He joined colleagues for social functions and was a familiar face to students, past and present.
Sue Nevin recalled a time where a stranger approached her son in the mall and gave him a big hug. It was a former student who still remembered him.
‘‘He’s been a huge role model for children coming through our school,’’ Spreydon principal Andrea Stewart said.
‘‘What he does within the school shows that against his limitations he strives to be the best he can be.’’
When Blair Nevin began at Spreydon, Workbridge paid the entirety of his wages due to those limitations. His workload could never be the same as an able-bodied person, so the funding made it possible for him to get a job.
From 2005, that dropped to 70 per cent of his wages and, from 2012, dropped in 5 per cent increments every six months until Spreydon was eventually faced with paying his total wage.
The school, working with a limited budget from operation grants, fought the reductions along the way, Stewart said.
It was paying all of Nevin’s wages, but would likely have to let him go in the new year. In July, Spreydon School moved to a new site. Its maximum roll size was reduced, as was its operational funding.
‘‘Legislation has changed over time and what’s happened is Blair’s been left in the void,’’ Stewart said.
MSD did not respond to questions about any changes in legislation that led to reductions in Nevin’s wage subsidy.
National contracts manager Claire Stearne said the funding arrangement was never intended to be permanent.
‘‘We’ve exhausted all options for supporting Blair to stay working at Spreydon School as well as providing support for him to find other work,’’ she said.
Sue Nevin said the most difficult part to comprehend was that MSD had offered to find a new job for her son where his wages would be subsidised for six months. Five per cent reductions would again begin to kick in after that.
Blair Nevin currently earned about $250 for 16 hours’ work at the school. He received about $350 in supported living and accommodation supplements.
He drove himself to work and owned his own home. He had rates and a mortgage to pay, meaning he would need further support from Work and Income if he did not have a job.
‘‘They’re going to take this off Blair, but then they have to pay him in the other hand because he’ll have to get more of a benefit,’’ his mother said.
Stearne said MSD was doing ‘‘as much as we can’’ to find Nevin another job. But his parents, and the school, believed there were holes in the scheme he was employed under, and the cycle would simply repeat itself.
Nevin’s father, Carl Nevin, said the idea behind Workbridge was to allow extra time for people with disabilities to reach the skill level of those without.
No matter the job, his son would be expected to reach the skill level of an able-bodied employee by the time the funding ceased. He would never be able to do so.
‘‘Blair doesn’t like sitting at home getting money for nothing.’’ Sue Nevin, his mum
He picks up litter and sweeps the grounds, with the help of speciallymade tools his employer provided for him.