People with disabilities are entitled to salaries, not just social welfare

This could be a real, inclusive republic if we let people with disabilities make a contribution at work too

Helping people with disabilities to get work will make a huge difference to their lives and it will benefit the economy. Photograph: Thinkstock

Helping people with disabilities to get work will make a huge difference to their lives and it will benefit the economy. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:00

All too often, political debate about disability matters centres on only one issue: social welfare allowance. Clearly such an issue is important. We need to ensure we live in a country that provides financial supports for people who need them. However, it is only part of the debate we need to have.

The State cannot think that its sole responsibility when it comes to people with disabilities is funding social welfare payments. That is an ignorant and offensive view. We need to change and challenge how the State interacts with people with disabilities if we are serious about living in an inclusive country that wants to harness the potential of all our citizens.

Traditionally, our approach to disability services in this country has been to write a cheque, but never to examine if the systems and structures are in place to empower people with disabilities to live the lives they want to live.

So we have a situation where our laissez-faire attitude has led the State to believe, wrongly, that it has met its moral and legal obligation by issuing disability allowance payments and outsourcing the delivery of services to a variety of organisations.

This viewpoint is completely out of step with any modern country, and with the needs and wants of people with disabilities.

Fixing the economy

The first half of this Government’s term was focused on fixing the economy. That work is now well in hand and, as we continue to bring about economic recovery, we need to recognise people with disabilities as part of this recovery, just like every other citizen.

This means doing more to help people with disabilities to access the workforce by developing a comprehensive plan for supported employment. We cannot continue to sideline people with disabilities. Instead, we must enable them to fulfil their potential and make their contribution to society by putting structures in place to help them access the workforce and pursue the careers of their choice.

The Programme for Government contains a number of key commitments on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. Some progress has been made, but we have much more to do. Those commitments are ambitious and innovative and they are light years ahead of anything proposed by previous Governments.

So we must push ahead with their implementation. We need to introduce individualised budgets. This reform will be essential if we want to move away from the days of just throwing money at disability services rather than reforming them.

We must move towards a personal budget model so that people with disabilities, or their families, have the flexibility to make choices that suit their needs best, and stop providing block-funding grants to service providers. This will empower people with disabilities to choose the services they want, with adequate State support.

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