Budget 2017 needs to tackle disability issues
Between 2008 and 2015, funding for disability services was reduced by nearly €160m
The truth to be faced up to is that each of us is or will be affected by disability, either personally or through a loved one. More than 56,000 people will become disabled in Ireland in the year ahead. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The 2017 budget is the fourth since the ending of the recession. There are 600,000 disabled people and their families. They are citizens of this country.
It is unacceptable that living with a disability in Ireland today can bring extra costs of between €207 and €276 per week.
It is well established that people with disabilities are one of the groups in Ireland at highest risk of poverty. In addition, overall funding for disability services was reduced by €159.4 million between 2008 and 2015, and mental health services lost almost 1000 staff over the course of the recession.
The programme for government commits to ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) by this coming December. This is great news. The budget, either through changes to how existing resources are used and or from the extra resources available needs to make a strong start in the implementation of Ireland’s commitment to the full inclusion of people with disabilities in their local communities.
The Disability Federation of Ireland has called for an investment of €112 million in health, 1,000 social houses, (funded through the Rebuilding Ireland housing plan) and €30 million for housing adaptations along with an initial weekly payment of €20 to disability allowance participants, as a way of addressing the burden of the extra and ordinary costs of living, costing €124 million.
The knee-jerk response is to say it cannot be afforded. At €266 million it can well be afforded. It is about 40 per cent of the public services funding available.
The more important question is, does it make good sense when there are so many competing demands and so many of them are worthy.
We are inclined to think of “disability” as a sector, as an area that stands out from others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Disability and chronic conditions are everywhere. They are in every family and they affect the functioning of every economic and social entity in Ireland. Disability is a societal issue, yet it is comforting to think of “the disabled”.
The truth to be faced up to is that each of us is or will be affected by disability, either personally or through a loved one. More than 56,000 people will become disabled in Ireland in the year ahead.
It will likely be the greatest undermining event in the life of that person and family. Its reach stretches into the joyous arrival of the newborn, through the hard-pressed adult population to our ageing parents. And no community or “sector” is spared. From Bunclody to Buncrana and from Dublin in the east out beyond Galway in the west.
From those who are poor and already struggling, through the “squeezed middle” to the well-off. All will have their reasonable hopes and expectations dashed and years of frustration will await them in their search for services and supports.
Investment in disability is best seen at this time of restricted resources as the way to extract best value from public spending by deploying it around this inevitable contingency. Ireland needs to construct a person- and family-centred infrastructure that can intervene early, keep people involved in the economic and social life of their community and which will become a valuable part of the social and economic infrastructure of a sustainable and thriving Ireland.
Disability comes to virtually every door with a few defining features. It brings or compounds poverty and it ensures that people become excluded and marginal. Now is the time to construct our response in tandem with disabled people and the many organisations at community level that support this endeavour.
Where can Government find a more justifiable basis to effectively marshall its limited resources?
If the commitment by Government to ratify the UN CRPD is to be credible a strong start must now be made to address the many issues, which have accumulated for disabled people over the past eight years.
If our disabled citizens and their families are to be part of “our” recovery, Budget 2017 will tell all.
John Dolan is a Senator and chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland