Today buildings all over the world will light up their facades in purple as a sign of solidarity with people with disabilities. Yet sadly the organisations charged with providing for their care and welfare remain firmly in the red.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities should be a day when people with disabilities can celebrate achievements, and mark progress on the road to true equality and independence. However, despite growing recognition of the importance of inclusion, this is not supported by the reality.
Right now, with the country firmly emerged from a financial crisis which once threatened to engulf us, organisations providing vital services for people with disabilities are gathering to speak with one voice on how they have been left behind.
The funding crisis in the disability sector has become so critical that the future of services for up to 65,000 men, women and children are now at serious risk.
The people we serve are being let down decade after decade by a dearth in funding
These are services which are critical to their day-to-day lives, critical to giving people the care they need to stay alive, a chance to live a life of their choosing, a voice.
Nine well known organisations which have been providing services for people with disabilities all over Ireland for decades have united to form the Disability Action Coalition. It will highlight the funding crisis which has brought us to breaking point, and to campaign for a new and secure future.
We are Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, Cheshire Ireland, Chime, Enable Ireland, Headway Ireland, Irish Wheelchair Association, Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, and National Council for the Blind in Ireland and the Rehab Group.
Together we provide day services as well as residential, home-based and respite services for people with physical, intellectual, sensory and mental health disabilities.
These services are not optional, and they are often life-changing. Many thousands of people depend on us every day, not just for services but for a roof over their head. We employ 9,000 staff.
The people we serve are being let down decade after decade by a dearth in funding which has pushed the sector to a cliff edge.
We are not fully funded for the services we provide. We are not funded for the full cost of reversing the pay cuts imposed under the Financial Emergency Measures in Public Interests (FEMPI). We are not funded for the cost of meeting Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) standards, and we have been hit by massive increases in insurance costs.
What this means is that for many of us any reserves we have had are now depleted, and we are running deficits.
Some members have had to cut services or lay people off. Others have had to decide not to go ahead with new, much-needed services. This means that people with disabilities are forced to wait longer for basic needs. Most of us are struggling to retain staff because we cannot compete with what the HSE pays its staff to do the same work.
All of our members are funded under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, and this is at the heart of the challenges which we are facing.
This esoteric designation means that although we are providing the same services as our colleagues in the State sector, we are not funded to the same level. Now we are so short of funds that our futures are not secure.
It is time the State dealt with the problems being faced by section 39 disability providers because so many people with disabilities depend on us for a vital services, every day, in every county, across the country.
What we want, and need, in the first instance is to have the serious and urgent issue of our deficits resolved as soon as possible. We estimate that for our nine organisations we will need between us at least €20 million a year.
Politically, people with disabilities remain firmly in the shadows
We want to be funded to meet the full cost of pay restoration to our staff, which right now is not being funded and will cost us millions of euro.
And we want to create a new and secure future for our services on behalf of the people who use them, their families, staff and their communities.
The issue of disability rights has risen socially and culturally in recent years as evidenced by today’s celebration. Yet politically, people with disabilities remain firmly in the shadows. One in five of us live with disability, and remain some of the most marginalised and forgotten people in Irish society.
Rosemarie Keogh is chairwoman of the Disability Action Committee