Advisers tell Burton to axe disability allowance for under-18s
DISABILITY ALLOWANCE payments to under-18s will be ended in the budget if the Government adopts a proposal from the expert group that recommended reducing the rate of child benefit.
The Coalition was forced into a U-turn after last December’s budget when its plan to stop the practice of paying disability allowance directly to 16- and 17-year-olds met strong opposition from the parents of severely disabled children and Opposition parties.
The contentious proposal to increase the minimum qualifying age for the allowance from 16 to 18, while providing a compensatory payment for the teenager’s parent or guardian, is back on the agenda as Budget 2013 approaches.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said the EU-European Central Bank-International Monetary Fund troika has raised concerns about social welfare payments going straight to under-18s and said she was worried about young people losing the incentive to stay in education.
Ms Burton charged the expert advisory group on tax and social welfare with resolving such anomalies in the social welfare code. The group submitted its report on family income supports, including child benefit, to Ms Burton earlier this year. The Minister will receive the group’s work on State payments to the disabled shortly. The group will propose withholding disability allowance from 16 year olds who are new claimants while extending the domiciliary care allowance to the children’s carers. Currently, a domiciliary care allowance is paid to the parents of a child with a disability until the child is 16, after which the teenager goes on disability allowance in his or her own right.
The weekly maximum rate of disability allowance is €188. The domiciliary care allowance rate is €309.50 per month, although those in receipt of the payment may also qualify for carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance. A respite care grant of €1,700 a year can also be claimed and child benefit is not affected.
Last year, Ms Burton told the Dáil there were 1,926 recipients of disability allowance aged between 16 and 18 and the total spend on the payments to teenagers in that age group was €18.8 million. There were 3,600 children of domiciliary care allowance recipients who were aged 14 or 15 due to “migrate” to disability allowance on reaching the age of 16.
“I would be concerned if there were a disincentive to a child involved staying on in school, education or training,” Ms Burton said.
During the debate in March 2011, Sinn Féin spokesman on social protection Aengus Ó Snodaigh claimed some families could face a shortfall of €440 a month.
In the immediate aftermath of the budget announcement in December 2011, the Government climbed down from its plan to stop paying disability allowance to 16 and 17 year olds and to implement reductions in payments of €44 a week to disabled people between the ages of 22 and 24, and €88 a week for those aged between 18 and 21.
The newly elected deputy for Dublin West, Patrick Nulty, was expelled from the Labour Party after voting against the budget, citing difficulties with disability cuts, among other measures, while Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming described the proposed changes as “nasty”.
Total spend on disability allowance for those aged 16-66 is more than €1 billion. Domiciliary care allowance supports 24,000 families and some 26,000 children at a cost of €100 million per annum, with an additional €45 million paid to families on the respite care grant.
Adults with disabilities protested overnight outside Government Buildings last month after €10 million in cuts to personal assistant hours for those with disabilities were announced by the Health Service Executive. The proposal was reversed by Minister for Health James Reilly, who denied there had been a U-turn.
The social welfare system generally processes payments from the age of 18. The minimum age limit of 16 was established in 1953 as a qualifying condition for the disabled person’s maintenance allowance and the age limit was maintained when that scheme was replaced by the disability allowance scheme in 1996.