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Funding of Disability Services: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch] I am pleased to say that progress has been made by HIQA on finalising draft standards during 2012. The most recent draft was subject to a five week consultation process which ended on 21 November. I expect to receive the final version of the standards document in the coming weeks and a likely launch date is envisaged in January 2013. Work is also under way on the regulations required to bring the standards into law and further discussions are taking place now on the resources and staffing required by HIQA from 2013, with a view to having the new regulatory system up and running by mid-2013.

The Government is fully committed to facilitating people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment, training and education. In the area of special educational needs, the protection of front-line services for pupils is a priority. Approximately 15% of the entire budget of the Department of Education and Skills - some €1.3 billion - was spent in support of children with special educational needs in 2011 and on training initiatives which I will also outline.

In line with the Government's commitment to front-line services for pupils with special educational needs, the current overall level of funding for special education has been retained at last year's level. Services being provided from the education budget to support the care needs of pupils with special needs, including children with disabilities, include 10,575 whole-time equivalent special needs assistant posts in primary, post-primary and special schools; approximately 9,950 learning support and resource teacher posts to provide additional teaching supports; more than 1,100 teachers in specialist schools at much reduced pupil-teacher ratios; and early educational intervention for children with autism from 2.5 years.

The Department of Education and Skills now funds 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools, as well as the home tuition programme for children with autism who are unable to access placement in an early intervention class. Funding is also provided for school building adaptations, special school transport arrangements and enhanced capitation rates which are payable to most special schools and special classes. This funding underlines the Government's commitment to special education provision for children with special educational needs, including children with disabilities. In addition, the education sector is working very closely with the health sector on the HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people, which was the issue at hand last Saturday.

In the health sector, the needs of school leavers have also been met this year. Under the auspices of its national consultative forum, and with the co-operation of many agencies, the HSE has worked hard to accommodate the demand for school-leaver and rehabilitative training places, managing to find almost 670 places in 2012. I wish to thank the HSE disability service and service providers for achieving this without any additional funding. Contrary to Deputy Martin's comments, I have at no stage boasted about this. The effort came through very hard work and the people in question must receive thanks for it.

In the area of training needs, the aim is to facilitate people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment and training. Along with the option of FÁS mainstream training, training places are also provided specifically for persons with disabilities through specialist training providers. In 2012, FÁS will provide the same volume of training places allocated to these providers as in 2011. The total FÁS budget for specialist training provision in 2012, including training allowances, is €53.7 million, representing 12% of the overall FÁS budget of €453 million.

Meeting training needs is only part of the journey that people with disabilities and special needs generally must face in order to obtain longer-term sustainable employment. In the area of disability activation, the Government is committed to supporting people to participate more fully in training and employment in view of the particular challenges faced by people with disabilities. The integration of the employment services and community services divisions of FÁS into the Department of Social Protection is enhancing the delivery of employment services for all people, including people with disabilities, and will assist in overcoming some barriers in this area. The Department of Social Protection provides an extensive range of income and work-related supports for people with disabilities and employers to facilitate greater participation in employment by people with disabilities.

The recently launched disability activation project, which aims to identify the optimum approaches to mainstreaming labour market activation measures for people with disabilities, is an important first step in this regard. Funding of just over €7 million has been allocated for 14 projects in the Border, midlands and west region to run until April 2015 which are aimed at providing practical insight into how best to engage with people with disabilities and increase their employment prospects. The four strands of the disability activation project include improving access to employment; progression for young people with disability; progression for people with an acquired disability; and innovative engagement with employers.

A number of programmes formerly operated by FÁS are now operated by the Department of Social Protection, including the Employ Ability service, which was formerly the supported employment programme; the wage subsidy scheme; the disability support and awareness grants and schemes; and community employment. The Department also operates a number of other income and employment support schemes, including the partial capacity benefit payment scheme mentioned by Deputy Ó Cuív, the back-to-education allowance and the disability allowance income disregard. The Department of Social Protection is committed to supporting people with disability to participate more fully in society and to become more self-sufficient by providing supports that address barriers that they may face.

I welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to put on the record the Government's position on the numerous and wide-ranging issues raised in the motion before the House. This is a time of change for the health sector as a whole and not just for people with disabilities. Although the changes we have signposted in the value for money and policy review are challenging in the current economic circumstances, they contribute towards the Government's overall vision for a more integrated health service, which can only be to the benefit of each and every citizen of this country, with or without a disability. During this time of change, the Government acknowledges that there will be significant demand for new services and a continuing requirement to make existing services more efficient. The Government is committed to working collaboratively to realise the vision of a more inclusive society for all, where services and supports will be tailored to meet the needs of the individual citizen while at the same time being provided in an accountable and cost-effective manner.

The Bills that will be dealt with shortly, taking in mental capacity and assisted decision making, will have a serious and positive effect not just on all of us but on people with disability. We will be legally obliged to listen to what such people have to say.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy): Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy I understand the Minister of State is sharing time with Deputies Nolan, Connaughton and Conway. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan I am delighted to speak on this extremely important topic and I commend the proposers of the motion on bringing it forward for discussion tonight. We often speak as politicians in what can be a glib way about the most vulnerable people in society, and every group can in some way lay claim to that title. Boiling it to the core, the people who are the most vulnerable in society are those with disabilities and particularly those with profound and severe disabilities. In my own experience in national politics, which extends to a short two years, this is the group with which I have had the most serious engagement. I have also experienced the steepest learning curve in this role.

I can think of the members of two families I have met. One family has a son in his mid- to late 30s who will always be in residential care. His parents are in their mid- to late 60s and as they are getting older, interaction with their son is becoming more difficult, as they are less able to handle a grown man because they are becoming more frail. Another family has a son who just turned 18 and is in a wheelchair and severely disabled. He will never live a life that we as able-bodied people will but the love and devotion of the family to the son is just as strong as it would be for any other child in a family.

I will speak about the service provider in my constituency, the Brothers of Charity Services and Ability West, which provide great and immense care to some of the most vulnerable citizens of Galway city and county.

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