People with disabilities, and in receipt of disability allowance, will not be forced to work under new plans to support people to “obtain and retain employment”, Ministers have promised.
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty and Minister of State for People with Disabilities Finian McGrath, were speaking at the publication of consultation documents on how people could be supported to take up work.
The questionnaires, one aimed at parents of young people with disabilities and another at adults with disabilities, are being distributed on foot of a report, Make Work Pay, published in April 2017. It makes recommendations on how the disability allowance should be reconfigured for new entrants over 18, with a focus on education, training and employment.
An “easy to read” information booklet on the consultation process, about what steps the department may take, says: “The advice might mean changes for you or your family in how the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection supports you.”
Asked if there was any danger that people with disabilities could have their allowances cut to “incentivise” them to take up work, Ms Doherty said “absolutely not” and stressed any new scheme would be “voluntary”.
“This is a proactive programme and the only people who are going to be helped are people who actually want to participate in work-life. We need to recognise there are a myriad of disabilities on a spectrum. There are some who are so disabled they will never work and we should continue to support them. But there are other people who want to work and there are others who want to work and can’t work... If someone has a disability and they don’t want to work we are not going to make them work. We would like them to work and want to support them if they want to.”
The British Conservative government faced criticism last year after it announced plans to cut the employment and support allowance by £30 a week to new entrants who were out of work due to a disability but judged capable of preparing to return to work. The cuts were fiercely opposed by disability charities, the opposition and number of Conservative back-benchers.
Mr McGrath insisted the approach here would be “completely different”, adding the British experience had been discussed by Government.
He said he wanted to see people with disabilities “in the workforce, on proper wages with proper conditions”.
According to the Department, 26 per cent of adults with a disability are unemployed. Just 37 per cent are in paid employment, compared with 73 per cent of the rest of the population.
The consultations will be held over the coming month, starting with the first in a series of regional seminars, in Cork on March 13th. Other locations will include Dublin, Sligo and Limerick, details on which will be published on the website of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The questionnaires published on Wednesday are available online at welfare.ie/makeworkpay.