Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys is planning to radically overhaul disability welfare payments. What is she proposing?
On Wednesday she published a “Green Paper” with details of an idea for a new payment, which would be called the personal support payment, to replace the current disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind pension.
How many people could this affect?
There are about 225,000 people in receipt of these payments – 150,000 on disability allowance, 74,000 on invalidity pension and about 1,000 on the blind pension.
Why do they need replacing?
The Department of Social Protection says these payments, set at €220 a week for the disability allowance and blind pension, and up to €225.50 a week for the invalidity pension, take no account of recipients’ vastly different levels of disability and capacity to work.
Everyone gets the same amount of money, whether they have a profound or mild disability, and no one gets support accessing training or employment, despite the fact many people with disabilities could and would like to work.
How is this affecting people with disabilities?
Badly. They have higher rates of poverty and unemployment than non disabled peers. And they have higher costs. Central Statistics Office data shows the “consistent poverty” rate of people unable to work due to disability or long-standing health problems is just under 20 per cent – about nine times the national average.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports an employment rate of 37 per cent for disabled people in Ireland compared with 73 per cent for people without disabilities. This gap is much larger than in most other EU and OECD countries.
So how would the Minister’s proposal help to address these issues?
The idea is to change the “flat” system of three different schemes into one, with three levels – called “tiers” – of payments depending on a person’s ability to work.
Those on level one would have a “very low capacity to work”, the Green Paper reads. They may be severely paralysed. The person has a high level of incapacity and low capacity to work. This means they are very unlikely to be able to take up any kind of paid employment for as long as their condition persists. The proposal is their payment would increase, and be aligned with the State pension (contributory) rate, currently €265.30 a week.
Those on level two would have medium support needs and a “low to moderate capacity to work”. The person may be capable of some types of work and durations of work – for example, part-time as opposed to full-time – but are unlikely to be able to fully support themselves through paid employment alone. Their payment would increase to €242.65 a week.
Those on level three would have low support needs and a “moderate to high capacity to work”. They cannot do certain types of work but may still be capable of taking up other forms of employment, says the paper. “This makes it a realistic option for them to progress towards sustaining themselves through paid employment alone.” They will be required to engage with Intreo offices and be open to reasonable offers of employment.
When would this all start?
It would be applicable to new entrants initially. People already on disability payments would be moved over to the personal support payment over a five-year period, though people could apply to move on to it sooner.
Who would decide which level people go into?
The Green Paper proposes medical assessors already employed by the department to assess people and make recommendations to deciding officers.
What if you are unhappy with the level you are assigned?
An entitlement to a review is included in the proposals.
What do disability groups think of the plan?
Groups had a first briefing with the Minister and her officials on Wednesday. While there was a cautious welcome for proposed increases in current rates, there was also concern that people could be penalised or even lose their payments if they don’t accept potentially unacceptable job offers. Employment services and employers must engage with the real barriers to work disabled people face, and a “systemic lack of expectation for disabled people” must be addressed, they said.
These are just proposals for now. Where can I have my say?
The department will hold information events around the country and online, and wants to hear people’s views. Submissions can be emailed, by December 15th, 2023, to: DCPolicyConsultation@welfare.ie