Margaret Spencer’s battle is on behalf of all family carers

Margaret Spencer’s battle is on behalf of all family carers

July 21, 2016

For nearly 50 years, Auckland mother Margaret Spencer has cared for her son Paul who has Down Syndrome and needs round the clock support. The Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused her applications for a disability support allowance because she is Paul’s mum: if she wasn’t related she would have qualified.

However, yesterday, after a long battle spanning many decades, Margaret successfully won a High Court legal bid to gain compensation for Paul’s care. 

“Margaret Spencer has always said that she was fighting not just for herself and her son but for many families in the same situation, we are very grateful to New Zealanders like her who fight for human rights on all of our behalf,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford.

“Today’s landmark judgement is a testament to the efforts people with disabilities and their families have put in over many years in battling a system that frequently fails to acknowledge and respect their rights.”

“We welcome the Court’s order that the Ministry of Health should educate its staff about the importance of the human rights of disabled people and their caregivers. Public policies that uphold and promote human rights principles deliver better outcomes for all New Zealanders.”

Margaret was awarded $207,681.84 for pecuniary loss, and denied denied a payment for damages.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, she said after years of battling she finally felt like her human rights had been upheld.

"We have been vindicated and I welcome the court's decision which will hopefully pave the way for others.”

"We feel the doors have finally been broken down and flung wide open for other intellectually disabled people and their parents."

She was hugely grateful to Jim Farmer QC and his team who took the case for her after years of rejection.

"Although I kept knocking on doors and writing letters, no one wanted to know," she said. 

"I was told we were not a high profile group, that we were an anomaly. But my love for my son would not allow me to give in to the disease of politics, process, and bureaucratic inaction.

"I took my endless paperwork to Jim and bombarded him and his team with my story. Words cannot express my gratitude to them."

Spencer said she was going to celebrate tonight.

"Having achieved this result Paul and I are now looking forward to enjoying our human rights."

In February she said:

"I could have placed Paul in residential care and had someone look after him."

“However I do not believe Paul would have achieved what he has achieved if it were not for my constant help ... and the fact he has been able to live with me in my home."

The High Court’s judgement on the remedies in the case of Spencer v Attorney General were released this week and the Human Rights Commission appeared as in intervener in the case.  It is a landmark decision, and the first in which the Court has awarded monetary damages to a claimant who has suffered loss as a result of a discriminatory Government policy.  It represents a new stage in the litigation arising from Atkinson v Ministry of Health, where the Courts ruled that the pre-2013 Ministry of Health policy not to pay family caregivers for the care they provided their disabled adult children constituted unlawful discrimination.

Source: NZ Herald articles by Kirsty Johnston

Human Rights Commission

The Commission works for a free, fair, safe and just New Zealand, where diversity is valued and human dignity and rights are respected.