Caregiver's fight for payment to get court hearing

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 10:10 25/06/2013
Margaret and Paul Spencer
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ

'STANDING FOR DEMOCRACY': Margaret and Paul Spencer.

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Nasty emails between government staff likening a Down Syndrome man to a "tatty teddy bear" are likely to be defended in court today as part of a case about paying family caregivers of the disabled.

Mother Margaret Spencer has been battling the Government to try get financial help to help her support her 44-year-old son, Paul, for 10 years. She has looked after him since birth.

Their fight is now being played out in the High Court at Auckland, where Spencer has taken a judicial review of a court decision ruling caregivers must be paid because the Ministry of Health still refused to give her any money.

She said she is not only fighting for herself, but many others in the same situation.

Yesterday the court heard from Spencer's lawyer Jim Farmer, who said his client believed the case was about democratic rights.

He said there were "many shocking aspects" to the case.

These included the Government's decision to ignore court rulings, to take away the right to recompense and the ouster condition in a new "discriminatory" law passed on family caregivers - which allows minimum wages for 40 hours per week - preventing challenges to the law.

"But there is also a human element," he said, and then read a statement from Spencer in which she said she was "driven by emotion" and preventing injustice.

I stand here for democracy," the statement said.

"And this is not a democracy as a democracy ensures equality of rights. This is a dictatorship where the Government is trying to gag the courts."

Farmer said the case was highly emotive, and read out examples of the nastiness between the Government and Spencer, including an email between Ministry of Social Development staff following a hearing where Spencer lost the right to a benefit.

"She really laid the sympathy vote right on, dragging poor Paul around like a tatty teddy bear, telling the committee what a martyr she was," the email read.

"She totally believed that by going to the minister she had made a difference and I was pleased to see that the decision withstood the scrutiny of the minister."

Farmer also noted the health ministry's contradictory stance - paying some caregivers but not others - and its widely varying figures.

He said  the ministry had estimated the cost of paying family caregivers between $17 million and $593m. However evidence from an economist suggested the cost to be between $32m and $64m.

The court also heard from the Human Rights Commission yesterday.

Lawyers for the Attorney-General are expected to put their defence today.

The case is set to go for three days before chief High Court judge Justice Helen Winkelmann.

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