Voluntary bodies already struggling to stay afloat
Voluntary organisations have a long tradition in the provision of services to people with intellectual disability in Ireland. Over the decades, services have improved and developed to the extent that they are now internationally recognised for both the range and quality of supports provided.
The National Federation of Voluntary Bodies acknowledges the substantial resources invested by the State, on behalf of the taxpayer, in funding disability services.
Occasionally, questions arise regarding transparency and accountability, such as in last week’s article by Deirdre Carroll (Opinion Analysis, November 21st).
What does the State get and, more particularly, what do people with disabilities and their families get in return for this investment? Statutory responsibility for the delivery of services to people with intellectual disability rests with the Health Service Executive. In the main, the HSE discharges this responsibility by entering into detailed service level agreements with voluntary providers.
These contractual agreements require specific details of how money is spent, the numbers of staff employed, the numbers of people receiving supports and the range and type of supports provided. A critically important part of the process is the furnishing of annual audited accounts by all voluntary service providers.
In July the Government published its Value for Money and Disability Review. The report states that gross expenditure on disability services increased by 34 per cent from €1.34 billion in 2005 to €1.789 billion in 2009.
This investment was made in the context of the National Disability Strategy to address significant gaps in services. The additional services developed as a result have been accounted for in full. It is important to point out that the report is based on 2009 data.
Since this time there have been substantial cuts of up to 10 per cent in funding, while during the same period the numbers receiving services and supports have increased significantly.
All staff employed in our sector have suffered significant pay cuts. They continue to do more with less in order to ensure that the support needs of all the people availing of services are met. As a result, the targeted average costs identified in the value for money report have been achieved.
For example, in Budget 2012, for the first time ever no provision was made for people requiring emergency residential placements or for over 650 children who graduated from our schools. The needs of all these people were met through innovative solutions developed by voluntary organisations in the absence of additional resources. This achievement has been recognised by the Government.
Many voluntary organisations are struggling to stay afloat and have incurred financial deficits in order to maintain these services. They are worried about the implications which their deficits will have on their ability to continue to provide essential services. Many have reached the end of the line. They are deeply concerned about the impact any further cuts in Budget 2013 would have on services and on the lives of people with intellectual disability and their families. For them one more cut would be a cut too far.
There is serious concern in the sector about the unravelling of much of the progress achieved in recent years in difficult circumstances.
We will continue to do all in our power to convince Government of the need to protect services to people with intellectual disability.
Brian O’Donnell is chief executive of the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies