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

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash] A lack of understanding was expressed by some who should know better of the function of personal assistants. It is not a variant of the home help service; it is much more than that. While there will always be a requirement for institutional or group services, we have begun the journey of moving towards a more individualised and person-centred model which will avoid the inevitable pitfalls of the one-size-fits-all approach that has been endemic for a long time. However, in cases where residential care is required, it must be of the highest standard and the standards should be monitored and maintained. HIQA, which has already proven its merit and shown its teeth on the monitoring of nursing homes, will have primary responsibility in this area. It has already provided draft national standards to be finalised in the new year and backed up with legislation to which we all look forward.

When we came into government we pledged to consult with all interested parties to publish a plan for the national disability strategy. That process is already under way. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has already formed a strategy implementation group and convened a disability forum under the aegis of the National Disability Authority, NDA. Ireland has made progress in how we treat our citizens with disabilities. In fairness to my colleagues opposite, much of the progress was made on their watch and they must be commended for it. It is our task now to continue that work and improve upon it. We cannot allow any slippage at this juncture. We must continue to move forward. I believe that under the leadership of the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, we will do that.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, for being present for the debate. I commend Fianna Fáil for tabling the motion because it affords Members on all sides of the House who are united in our desire to improve disability services with an opportunity to have an honest debate, which is important. It greatly angers people with disabilities when the debate is reduced to one about social welfare cheques. There is no doubt that social welfare payments such as domiciliary care allowance, disability allowance and carer’s allowance are vital to many people. All too often the culture and viewpoint in this House, and often in broader society, is that the State writes the cheque, hands it to the person with a disability and it is a case of job done, social conscience eased; we have done our bit. We must stop talking about people with disabilities as charity cases. I accept the payments are vital as financial assistance is needed but it is a rights agenda and a programme of reform on which we must focus.

  I have a relative with special educational needs who was born and grew up in this country at a time of economic boom. When Fianna Fáil was in government disability services were well funded. We also have that aim. However, my relative could not access many of the services he needed. People with disabilities will explain that even when the country was flush with money - when it was thrown around like confetti - there was still an issue with disability services. The point is that we do not have the luxury of throwing more money at services, nor do people with disabilities want that to be done; they want us to listen and to pursue and progress a rights-based agenda that recognises that the needs of people with disabilities go above and beyond a weekly or monthly social welfare payment.

  On the need for a more joined-up approach, I welcome the fact that we have a Minister of State with responsibility for disability but I find it astonishing that the Minister of State is not assigned to some Departments that are relevant to the area of disability. It is a whole-of-government issue that concerns the Departments of Education and Skills, Justice and Equality, Health, Children and Youth Affairs, Social Protection, Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, yet the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, whoever he or she is – it is not a personal comment - all too often is not linked into the Departments as well as he or she should be. That is a matter we must examine. We could have all the strategies we want but when political decisions are made in particular in the area of access to education, jobs and enterprise, the Minister of State with responsibility for disability must be heard.

  Deputy Nash alluded to the disgraceful incident of people with disabilities feeling they had to camp overnight outside Government Buildings on the proposed changes to personal assistance. That should never have arisen. The matter was handled very badly. There is no doubt that it was wrong, but what was interesting and the potential good that emerged is that when I was on my local radio talking to a man who had camped outside he said that he knew the status quo could not continue and that there would have to be changes and reform. He said that the Government should talk to them and that they could show where the savings could be made. That is the problem; there have been blunt cuts by all parties in government in recent years rather than an examination of how to reform the services.

  I welcome the policy review on the domiciliary care allowance, which at present is not fit for purpose. Families with children on the autistic spectrum cannot access it. That is not due to some inherent cruelty in the Department but because the application form does not work. The criteria must be examined. We must look at the transition from domiciliary care allowance, DCA, to disability allowance, DA. For example, should a 16-year old with high functioning autism in full-time education have to sign off the DCA and go onto the DA or should they stay on the DCA until they leave the school system? Is our SNA scheme fit for purpose? It is about care needs. One of the criteria in the job description for an SNA is cleaning the classroom and photocopying. We must examine whether we need a teaching assistant and if we could learn from other countries in Europe. I spoke to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, about that at the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection.

  We must also examine capacity legislation. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is working on the mental capacity legislation. We must plan better for school leavers with intellectual disabilities. The big rush that has been happening every summer in recent years – the funding situation has made it worse – to find places is unacceptable. We must move to a system of personalised budgets and examine the type of place a person wants and give him or her the dignity to choose the place rather than assigning the money to a service provider and having people with disabilities and their family running around trying to find a place for the sake of it.

Deputy Áine Collins: Information on Áine Collins Zoom on Áine Collins I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Creed.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Áine Collins: Information on Áine Collins Zoom on Áine Collins Deputy Creed will speak first.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I welcome the motion and thank Deputy Kelleher for bringing it before the House. It is imperative that funding for the disability sector is on the basis of efficiency and transparency. The 61 voluntary bodies delivering services for people with disabilities are represented by an umbrella organisation, the National Federation of Disability Bodies. We have both efficient and inefficient bodies. The Department has the information in-house as to who runs an efficient operation. Some organisations have taken significant cuts in funding in recent years and are delivering services for more people, doing more for less, which is the mantra by which we must all abide today. However, there are other organisations within the federation that are doing less with more than other organisations. It is time that we got tough with the organisations that are inefficient and that do not tell us the salary levels that apply. We must have such transparency in terms of funding and the unit cost in order that we can compare like with like for residential placements or day care. The Department and the HSE have the information.

I implore the Minister of State not to proceed further with the percentage across-the-board cut in funding which discriminates unfairly against certain organisations. Deputies Moynihan and Collins know St. Joseph’s Foundation in Charleville and the COPE Foundation in Cork are among the most efficient. It would be unfair to cut their budgets when other organisations are hopelessly inefficient. I implore the Minister of State to take this point on board.

Deputy Áine Collins: Information on Áine Collins Zoom on Áine Collins We all know people who have disabilities and their families have many challenges. We must ensure that the best services, in the most cost-effective manner, are available to meet their needs. Many communities through local fund-raising and Government help have built facilities within their communities ensuring that people with disabilities can, where possible, work and live among their own communities. The Government must continue to encourage that approach, as it is the best, most inclusive and cost-effective option.

Voluntary organisations, as Deputy Creed outlined, such as St Joseph's Foundation in Charleville and others throughout Cork, provide the best possible services. We must ensure that the service providers manage their operations in a way that provides full transparency and in the most efficient and effective manner. It must be our objective to ensure that the maximum amount of net funds go to the front line. We live in very difficult economic times and there is no doubt that in the past many inefficiencies that are still embedded in the HSE sector were caused by a system that threw money at the problem rather than solving the problem and looking seriously at long-term sustainability. The value for money and policy review of disability services which was published in July 2012 identified fundamental issues that must be addressed. They focus on the way in which HSE-funded disability services are managed and operated.

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