Private Members Motion on Disability Services

I join others in congratulating my colleague and friend, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, on his appointment to the position of Minister of State and wish him well in the role. I know he will bring his great depth of professional experience working with young people and his political experience to the role and he will do an outstanding and committed job. I also welcome this motion, tabled by Deputy Finian McGrath and his colleagues, as anything that brings this sensitive and important subject to the floor of the House must be welcomed.

It is a cliché to say that the manner in which a society engages with disabled people indicates the progress of that society, its political activity and democracy generally, but it is true. The amendment to the motion cites some figures and I want to read them into the record again. The Government spends almost €5 billion every year on disability services and €1 billion on income supports relating to illness and invalidity. The health service provided some €1.4 billion in 2014 for health and social services for people with disabilities. These figures include residential services for over 9,000 people, day services for 22,000 people, respite residential services for 6,000 people, 1.6 million hours of personal assistant home support, €7 million for additional places for school leavers, €3 million for emergency residential placements and €4 million for the development of services for children with disabilities. It is important in a rational debate that these figures go on the record, in light of some contributions from the other side of the House. The disability sector has always been a priority for this Government and remains so.
There is no point in evading the fact that this country experienced a horrendous recession that left us on the point of bankruptcy. As a consequence of the recession many people suffered enormously and a disproportionate amount of this suffering was experienced by people with disabilities. Happily, through visionary and prudent financial management, we are emerging from the recession. In the first quarter of the year we saw 2.7% growth and 60,000 jobs have been created in the past year. Income tax returns are up 10% and retail wages are up 3%. It behoves us to concentrate resources on those with disabilities and to exercise positive discrimination favouring disabled people who took the sharpest edge off the recession.

The low pay commission that is part of renewed Government priorities is significant for people with disabilities because those who are employed are often in low-paid jobs. The newly established Government priorities for 2014 to 2016 will result in the implementation of the value for money and policy review so budgets will be linked to activity and outputs. There will be a link between how money is spent and positive outcomes for people with disabilities and this is only right as taxpayers’ money is being targeted on those who need it. There will be personalised, community-based services and this is important so people can live in their communities, access services and be looked after holistically. It is important that we devise strategies to deal with unemployment among disabled people and be ever-vigilant into the future on this issue. It is unquestionable that the level of unemployment is higher among disabled people. Even before the recruitment embargo, the quota system in the public service did not work properly as it tended only to absorb people within the public service who fell ill or developed a disability in the course of their work. The public service tended not to use the quota system to recruit new staff who were disabled and this must be examined.

The community-based model of residential service is evolving but needs more attention as various NAMA developments have the potential to help build the 25,000 private and social housing units per year promised by 2020. Some of these units should be targeted at people with disabilities as community residential care.
There is currently a controversy around the loss of funding by advocacy groups for people with disabilities and I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and the Cabinet to revisit this matter. There must be ways of reinstating this income and I hope it will be an outcome of this motion.

Carers are very important and I believe there is potential in the scheme for carers that has not yet been exploited. We could make caring a more attractive option for people in other low-paid jobs. It is not possible to go into great detail in a short period but the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and his colleagues must examine ways to expand the carer’s allowance. Means testing is generous but could be improved and everything possible should be done to entice people to switch from low-paid employment to caring, which is also a form of real employment. There is great potential in this. The roll-out of primary care is a commitment in the priorities for Government because it is vital for the entire population, particularly disabled people who wish to live in their own communities and have a full life therein.
Improvements in the quota system when the embargo on public service recruitment is lifted must mean more targeted employment opportunities for disabled people. Employers must be offered incentives to take on disabled people and when general employment incentives are created there should be a mandatory element included for disabled people. If an employer is to benefit from tax relief for employing extra people a certain quota should be disabled. If we develop residential services and community living for people with disabilities they will live full lives because they will have access to everything they need.

The carer’s allowance must be more attractive and those currently in receipt could be offered more benefits. The income threshold should also be increased and, in so far as possible, the carer’s allowance should be increased incrementally. This will make caring a more attractive career and a real option for people. This would give many people with severe disabilities a greatly enhanced quality of life and allow them to live where they want to live, in their communities.

Thanks be to God in contemporary times we have made enormous progress from the traditional old-fashioned model of institutionalisation and all that went with it back in the dark days. Immense progress has been made but there is still a great need to do more and improve. Now that all the signs suggest we are emerging somewhat from recession, although we would not want to get carried away, it is important that we positively discriminate towards disabled people with the increased resources and greater flexibility in budgets, as they have borne the greatest brunt.

I repeat my request to the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and the Cabinet that we revisit the issue of the advocacy groups and their income.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Hear, hear.

Deputy Joe O’Reilly: It needs to be revisited.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website