Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

ACC cuts carer's pay under minimum wage

Linda Barlow with husband Bill. Bill suffered a head injury many years ago and Linda cares for him at their home south of Auckland. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Linda Barlow with husband Bill. Bill suffered a head injury many years ago and Linda cares for him at their home south of Auckland. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A wife who looks after her brain-damaged husband has had her pay cut by ACC to less than the minimum wage.

Linda Barlow, whose 69-year-old husband Bill suffered a brain injury as a jockey when he was 32, has been told she will get only $9.37 an hour to provide "oversight supervision" of her husband for 34.5 hours a week from July 30.

ACC will keep paying her $14.95 an hour to give Bill "attendant care" for 10.5 hours a week, down from the 42 hours it pays for now.

That will cut her total pay by about $148 a week, from $628 to $480.

Veteran Wellington lawyer John Miller is challenging the cut and said it was "part of a widespread attack by ACC to reduce the amount they pay families for providing attendant care to the seriously injured".

"Whenever there is a big push to save costs, attendant care is one they look at," he said.

The corporation's tougher line comes just as the Ministry of Health is working out how to implement a landmark Appeal Court judgment in May declaring that it was illegal to discriminate between family members and outsiders who provide care for disabled people.

Until now, the health system has funded home care for non-accident victims only if the care is provided by non-family carers.

In contrast, ACC has long funded family members to care for accident victims and is seen as the health system's likely model for funding non-accident victims. But the ACC Act says it must consider "the extent to which ... family members might reasonably be expected to provide attendant care [without pay]".

People caring for family members said ACC paid up to $17 and $21 an hour for attendant care if the family carer is paid through an agency such as McIsaacs or Geneva.

But a Hawkes Bay woman was paid only $9.33 an hour for 28 hours a week, and $14.40 for seven hours, to care for a friend's five-year-old granddaughter in Foxton after an accident. Labour MP Andrew Little has taken up her case and said no one should be paid below the minimum wage of $13.50.

In the latest case in South Auckland, ACC has told Mrs Barlow that her new pay rate of $9.37 an hour for "oversight supervision" is only a "contribution" towards her care for her husband, rather than a wage.

"It acknowledges that the family member can undertake normal household activities at the same time as providing oversight supervision," it says.

Mr Barlow, who suffered brain damage when he was thrown off a horse in 1974, kept working until 2004 as a boilermaker, caretaker and supermarket storeman, despite sporadic fits.

Once he had a fit inside a boiler. Another time he narrowly escaped injury when he had a fit next to a machine that squashed cardboard boxes.

Mrs Barlow said he needed her to watch out for him. Although they married in 1985, they did not know at first that they were entitled to ACC help, and Mrs Barlow has only been paid for attendant care since 2005.

"No matter what they say, the minimum wage should be the minimum wage for everybody," she said.

But an ACC spokeswoman said ACC did not employ caregivers, who are either employed by other agencies or, like Mrs Barlow, are self-employed.


PAY LOTTERY

Hourly pay rates for family carers:

* Mother of tetraplegic child, paid by ACC via Geneva: $21

* Mother of adult with cerebral palsy, paid by ACC via McIsaacs: $17

* Linda Barlow, wife of brain injury victim, paid by ACC for attendant care: $14.95

* Linda Barlow, paid by ACC for oversight supervision: $9.37

* Parents of adult with non-accident-related disability: Nil.

- NZ Herald

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