Disability services cuts to cost 'millions'

Thu, Oct 15, 2009, 01:00

ANY CUTS to services for those with intellectual disabilities will cost the State millions more in future years, a conference heard yesterday.

Inclusion Ireland, the national association for people with an intellectual disability, said that the cost of putting someone in long-term residential care was €80,000 a year, a figure that could be avoided in many cases if proper home and educational supports were introduced at an early age.

In its pre-budget submission, Inclusion Ireland said it would be “inconceivable” to cut the half-rate carers’ allowance when two-thirds of people with intellectual disabilities lived at home and where care in the home cost substantially less than residential care.

Inclusion Ireland has called for no cuts in frontline services to people with disabilities and no cuts in rates of social welfare payments in support to carers in 2010.

Services for people with intellectual disabilities cost €2.5 billion this year. The Health Service Executive has sought to cut 3 per cent in funding to voluntary organisations through a “value for money” initiative. Inclusion Ireland has called for the money allocated to the intellectual disability sector to be “ring-fenced”.

Its chief executive, Deirdre Carroll, said that the cutting of funding for 534 special needs places in February was an example of short-sighted thinking that will ultimately cost the State more money.

“If education supports are put in place, that person will have the best opportunity to reach their potential. From an economic perspective, this makes sense,” she said.

Ms Carroll criticised the commitment to disability services in the new programme for Government as having no targets and being something that a “first-year economics student” could write.

“We are facing difficult times. People with disabilities, their parents and families, through no fault of their own, are going to have to pay for it,” she added.

In a joint press conference, Inclusion Ireland, the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, the National Parents’ and Siblings’ Alliance, Down Syndrome Ireland and Irish Autism Action said that existing money was not being used in the best available way.

In the case of autism, which costs the State an average of nearly €5 million in the lifetime of a person with the illness, it is a case of “early and cheap or late and expensive”, Irish Autism Action board member Brian Murnane said.

Mary O’Reilly, president of Down Syndrome Ireland, said the lives of children with Down syndrome had been changed for the better in good times, but the threat of cuts would leave many stranded and undo the good work that had been done.

She called for the individualisation of funding where the person and their families decide the best approach to the care of the person with an intellectual disability.

Séamus Greene, director of the National Parents’ and Siblings’ Alliance, which represents the families of children with intellectual disabilities, said that many school principals did not understand special needs and most teachers were “screaming out for help” in relation to it.