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By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Manila
Fiji’s disability allowance scheme, introduced in 2017 has been described as a ‘unique’ model for other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
An allowance of FJD$90 (US$41) was rolled out for people with disabilities in Fiji after the island nation ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In the 2019 national budget, government set aside close to FJD$8 million (US$4 million) as disability allowance.
Addressing the Asia-Pacific Social Protection Week in Manila Tuesday, the representative of the Fiji Federation of Persons with Disabilities, Joshko Wakaniyasi said, “Fiji’s model is unique because government looked at different social protection scheme and implemented what is applicable to its context – especially the disability allowance scheme. In our case, government consulted with the disability sector on what the new assistance should look like.
Wakaniyasi said the current allowance is far from ideal but his organisation is happy with the enabling environment that government has put in place to assist people with disabilities.
Currently persons with disabilities in Fiji benefit from Life insurance cover from Fiji Care, food voucher and bus fare scheme, housing assistance through Habitat for Humanity, mobility devices, education and scholarship for children and economic empowerment support.
Wakaniyasi said the number of people with disabilities is growing and the challenge for government is the long term sustainability of the social assistance and social insurance scheme.
“It’s about shifting the discussion from a charity based model to one that is rights based. Social protection is a vehicle or an opportunity to bring about equality to persons with disabilities.
“We have a growing disability population. According to the last census, persons with disabilities represent 13.7 percent of our population, equivalent to 113,595 people in Fiji. Our current structure for social protection encourages opportunity, it’s not a charity based one, Wakaniyasi told PACNEWS in Manila.
He acknowledged government but cautioned that more needs to be done – particularly in promoting economic empowerment to help those who benefit graduate to meaningful employment.
“I will boldly say they are getting it right in terms of consultation and partnership but there needs to be more investment. We hope to see more investment in a pool of fund that is adequate to cover most of the costs for the growing number of peoples with disabilities in Fiji.
Wakaniyasi is concerned that many people in Fiji are in the ‘missing middle’ because of poverty.
“In the poverty scale, a lot of Fijians sadly are in the missing middle. Their only saving is the provident fund. If someone is still working and acquires a disability, they can fall into the poverty bracket. There’s a need then for appropriate support for them.
“The disability allowance is not poverty base but support based to get the person to be rehabilitated. It’s a disability expense to try and get the person back on his/her feet. It’s an opportunity to bring them up to par with others.
Wakaniyasi suggested changing the disability allowance to ‘equal opportunity allowance’ to capture those who fall through the cracks – especially those who were not disabled from birth but got disabled from work related incidents – and need to access government support.
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