Welfare payments to disabled people will increase by up to €40 a week under proposals to radically overhaul payments to more than 225,000 people in receipt of disability allowance and invalidity pensions, The Irish Times has learned.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will publish a green paper on Wednesday detailing proposed changes that would see the two current allowances integrated into a single, three-tiered payment, to be renamed a personal support payment.
The purpose of the proposed changes is to address far higher levels of poverty and unemployment among disabled people, as well as to start meeting the additional costs associated with disability, a source told The Irish Times.
Under the proposals, which go out to consultation from Wednesday, the current “one-size-fits-all” weekly payment, of €220 (disability allowance) and up to €225.50 (invalidity pension), would be replaced with three levels of personal support payment.
People will be categorised into one of three separate “levels”, according to the severity of their disability, with those most seriously impaired in level 1; those moderately disabled in level 2; and those mildly disabled in level 3.
People in level 1 would see their payments increase to €260 a week, those in level 2 to €240 a week, while those in level 3 would remain on €220.
Those in level 3 will be invited to engage in employment supports, with a view to increasing their participation in the labour force.
The Department believes up to half of the 225,000 in receipt of disability payments would be in level 3 and would like to work but are precluded from seeking employment as they could lose their payment.
Those on level 2 would also be invited to engage with employment support programmes, though they would probably be encouraged to look at part-time or voluntary work.
None of recipients’ supplementary entitlements, such as medical cards or fuel allowance, would be affected.
It is envisaged that the changes, if introduced, would apply to new entrants initially and there would be an appeals process.
A senior source told The Irish Times the Department was conscious there would be “great sensitivity” and “anxiety” about the proposed changes, and stressed nothing was “set in stone”. They emphasised no one would see their payments reduce under the proposals, which are intended to improve the situation of disabled people, which is worse here than in many other EU countries.
Figures published last year show almost 40 per cent of disabled people live in poverty, and have a labour-force participation rate of 37 per cent – about half that of the general population.
A cost of disability report, published by the Department in 2021, found additional costs to disabled people – for such items as medicines, therapies, specialised foods, equipment, transport and heating – were between €9,000 and €11,000 per person per year.
Ms Humphreys will begin meeting advocacy groups on Wednesday to set out details of the proposed changes. Consultation will continue until at least the end of the year, with a number of information events planned around the country and online.
A source said all questions would be addressed and ideas for suggested improvements taken on board.