State 'can't afford' disability costs

The State cannot afford to widen eligibility to two allowances for disabled people as advised by the Ombudsman, according to Minister for Health James Reilly.

The State cannot afford to widen eligibility to two allowances for disabled people as advised by the Ombudsman, according to Minister for Health James Reilly.

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

The State cannot afford to widen eligibility to two allowances for disabled people as advised by the Ombudsman, according to Minister for Health James Reilly.

Implementing the recommendation to widen eligibility for the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant would cost the Exchequer €500 million over a three-year period, he told an Oireachtas committee today. Current funding for both schemes is €10.6 million.

Last year, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly was heavily critical of Dr Reilly’s department in two reports which found that the exclusion of older people from eligibility for the mobility allowance contravened equality legislation.

However, Dr Reilly told the Committee on Public Service, Oversight and Petitions the direct cost of expanding eligibility for the schemes and the indirect costs of administering expanded schemes were “completely unaffordable” for the State.

He said the Department accepted the Ombudsman’s findings and pointed out that the schemes do not comply with the current policy for mainstreaming services for people with disabilities.

However, any solution would have to be achieved within the current budget. Otherwise, funding would have to be taken from frontline services.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch said the rules could not be changed without reducing the amounts paid to people currently on the schemes. Ms Lynch said the number of recipients of the mobility allowance could increase from the current level of 4,700 to 63,500 if eligibility were widened. The numbers availing of the motorised transport grant would rise from 300 to 19,250.

Changing the rules of the scheme could only be funded by cutting frontline services by, for example, reducing employment in the health service by 3,400 or eliminating all day, residential and personal assistant services for people with physical disabilities, she said.

Alternatively, the change could be effected within budget limits by reducing the mobility allowance from the current level of €208.50 per month to €12.20. The motorised transport grant would have to be cut from a €5,020 maximum over three years to €67.50.

“Clearly, severe reductions of this nature would not serve to best address the type of supports the schemes were intended to put in place,” she told the committee.

Dr Reilly said he was continuing to consider the recommendations of the Ombudsman very carefully.

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