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Caregiver's payment claim back in Court

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  • Caregiver's payment claim back in Court


    A mother who successfully won the right to be paid for caring for her disabled son is back in court seeking compensation for decades of work and damages for "humiliation".

    Margaret Spencer and her son Paul, aged in his late 40s, were back at the High Court at Auckland on Monday after the Court of Appeal last year rejected a Ministry of Health appeal against a ruling that Spencer be paid for caring for Paul.

    Spencer has been caring for her son, who has Down syndrome, for the past 25 years but it wasn't until 2013 that the Ministry of Health was forced to accept an application from her to be paid for her work, following a Human Rights Review Tribunal and High Court decision that ruled family members should be paid for caregiving.

    At the time the High Court found the Ministry had acted unlawfully by refusing to consider her application, upholding a previous Human Rights Review Tribunal decision that ruled the family had been discriminated against.

    The ruling also paved the way for Spencer to seek damages for the years she had worked without pay, and should she be successful in her bid it could pave the way for others to do the same.

    The bid for compensation was launched on Monday in a civil hearing set down for four days at the High Court. Spencer's long-time lawyer James Farmer QC is arguing for the claim on her behalf, however there is not yet a dollar figure attached to the bid, counsel said.

    He told Justice Patrick Keane that Spencer had suffered "humiliation" in her attempts to claw back payment from the Ministry who he said had passed Spencer around "from one department to another".

    "She's really been treated in a way that is a very undignified manner," Farmer said. "She continues to be discriminated against because she is a family member."He argued that the salary Spencer should receive should at least be "analogous" to specialist support services, while the Ministry believed it should be assessed by the specific tasks she completed, excluding supervision, with a starting rate of minimum wage.

    Farmer said this was at odds with the fact that if Spencer decided she could no longer care for Paul, he would be placed in a residential care unit where support workers would be paid for round-the-clock care including supervision.
    Spencer would later give evidence about her son's disability, which required constant supervision due to his inability to make decisions for himself, Farmer said.

    Spencer had taken an active role in his care, he said. "Because of her devotion to seeking to make the best quality of life he can have, she has encouraged and assisted him to develop activities and skills."
    Spencer first began her fight for the right to receive payment about 13 years ago and during that time nasty emails had been found to be exchanged between government staff comparing Paul to a "tatty teddy bear".

    During one hearing Farmer read out examples of the emails, including one 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 said.

    Credit; Stuff
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