Not-for-profit sector in crisis

 

Sir, – The not-for-profit sector is at breaking point. Following more than a decade of underfunding and meeting the cost of a huge growth in regulation, we, who are charged with providing life-changing services to more than 20,000 vulnerable people every year, are fearful for the future. We need urgent action now to future-proof the services so many of our most vulnerable people rely on.

In response to questions raised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in the Dáil this week on the issue of funding for Section 39 organisations providing services to people with disabilities, the Taoiseach responded by saying funding to our organisations had in fact been increased and that our organisations should be “well able” to fund services owing to our considerable outside incomes, bequests and assets.

With respect, we disagree.

The seven organisations writing this letter faced a combined cost of meeting regulation in 2017 of between €500,000 and €1.5 million each, and yet no additional funding was provided to meet this need. Over the past decade we have seen our funding for providing vital services to people with disabilities on behalf of the State reduce and then stand still which is threatening our future.

For more than ten years we have been struggling to meet these costs through now-depleted reserves or money fundraised to purchase things to improve the lives of the people we serve to provide basic services.

The funding gap is now unsustainable and is proving a threat to essential services. We have also faced widespread attrition owing to a lack of parity of pay for our staff, which has had an adverse effect on our vulnerable people who rely on these staff for care.

What we need now is for the Government to fund the full cost of service provision, for meeting compliance requirements, as well as a new model of funding to be put in place to ensure that services can continue to be provided to the 20,000 people they serve.

Being funded under section 39 of the Health Act means that we are grant aided annually, and since the recession these grants simply have not been enough to support the services we provide.

It also means that our services are considered “ancillary”, but we contend strongly that they are not, and neither are the people who use them.

It is time the Government truly recognised and acknowledged the role and true contribution of the not-for-profit sector, which in our case cares for many thousands of people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities across Ireland.

Who cares? Who cares about the future of this sector? More importantly, who cares about the many thousands of vulnerable people who use the services we provide, every day? Who cares about their future and our future?

We exist in a no-man’s land, in a no-win situation between those organisations which are funded to carry the costs of compliance and those in the private sector which are not obliged to carry the same compliance costs as us. Being designated “ancillary” is outdated, irrelevant and undermining us.

The real victims of the uncertain future of our organisations are the people who rely on the already stretched residential, respite and day services which we provide – people whose needs are often complex, changing and varied and who deserve to live full lives as citizens, and the support to do so. We are fighting for their futures.

What’s needed is a new vision, a vision which recognises that there is a role for an independent not-for-profit sector – a vision which is recognised in legislation, which allows the sector to continue to do what it has shown itself well capable of: that is, enabling people with a disability to live the lives of their choosing.

Our funding crisis has now become urgent with most organisations carrying a deficit and must be immediately dealt with. Regulation must be streamlined and funded. But it is also crucial that our role is recognised and put on a proper statutory footing. The opportunity of the Sláintecare reforms creates an opening to resolve historic issues and outdated structures. We ask to be part of that reform. The reality is that the millions of hours of vital services we provide annually to people with disabilities are at risk. In the year that the Government has ratified UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we expect our Government to show long-term commitment to the organisations so many of its citizens depend on. – Yours, etc,

MO FLYNN,

Chief Executive,

Rehab Group;

ROSEMARY KEOGH,

Chief Executive,

Irish Wheelchair

Association;

BREDA CREHAN ROCHE,

Chief Executive,

Ability West;

BARBARA O’CONNELL,

Chief Executive,

Acquired Brain Injury

Ireland;

NOREEN RYAN,

Chief Executive,

St Joseph’s Foundation;

BERNARD O’REGAN,

Chief Executive,

Western Care;

JOHN O’SULLIVAN,

Chief Executive,

Enable Ireland.