Fund­ing cut may cost job

Cere­bral palsy never stopped Blair Nevin work­ing, but a Min­istry of So­cial Devel­op­ment fund­ing cut might. Joel Ine­son re­ports.

The Press - - News -

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

DAVID WALKER/ STUFF

He picks up lit­ter and sweeps the grounds, with the help of spe­cial­ly­made tools his em­ployer pro­vided for him.

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