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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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  12 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy] If there had been a 3.7% reduction, as the Minister intended, the 1.7% reduction in front-line services would have been €135,000 and the 2% cut in administration costs would have been €13,000. This would have meant an overall reduction of €148,000. In fact, the reduction to St. Christopher's last year was €380,000. St. Christopher's, like many other service providers, has an extremely efficient and lean administrative function. One cannot simply say a cut of 2% off everything will achieve a specified target. A 2% reduction in this area would have meant a reduction of €13,000. The deputation from St. Christopher's told the Minister they could have lived with that but they have not been able to live with the reduction of €380,000. Since 1 July, respite care has seen a reduction of 28%. Respite of seven days has been reduced to five nights. Staff are sent home for three additional days of unpaid leave in the year. All community homes serviced by St. Christopher's now close down on every bank holiday and patients are discharged. This is because of the reductions of last year.

Representatives of St. Christopher's say they could have lived with the previous cuts. I acknowledge Fianna Fáil's part in the previous Government that inflicted cuts, but a time must come when we say enough is enough. This sector of society cannot take further cuts. St. Christopher's is a real-life example of a service that has provided invaluable service to the community of Longford-Westmeath for decades.

Severe pressure has been put on people with disabilities who are living independently and away from residential care or community housing. Cuts to home help hours in recent weeks and months are having a huge negative effect. The HSE is playing on people's good nature. If it takes 45 minutes or an hour to get a person out of bed, see to their personal hygiene and do whatever needs to be done, no home help will walk away when the allocated 30 minutes are up. If the allocated time has been reduced from one hour to 30 minutes, a home help will not walk away and leave the person to fend for his or herself. The HSE is playing on the good nature of thousands of home helps. Apart from being morally wrong, it does not make economic sense to cut home help hours. Everyone knows it makes more economic sense to keep people living independently in their homes than to relocate them to community facilities or nursing homes.

Where exactly does the Government stand on its commitment to mental health? Last year, the Government committed €35 million annually for the three years from 2012 to 2014. A number of weeks ago, I raised this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, during the Topical Issue debate. I asked her about the additional personnel to be employed in community health and I was told they would be employed in December. The additional staff will be employed in December so that the cost will come out of the 2013 and not the 2012 budget. Does the commitment made last year in the House stand today? Will €35 million of the HSE budget be ring-fenced for mental health this year, next year and in 2014?

I raise the issue of carers, although they are not the direct responsibility of the Department of Health. Carers are the only people who work for their social welfare payment. The manner and length of the delays they experience when they apply for the carer's allowance is unacceptable. A carer can wait for up to six or eight months to have an application processed. Many of them are refused the allowance and it can take a further ten months for an appeal hearing. That is not fair to people who are working for the income they receive. No one would be expected to work for eight months in a job before being paid. This is unfair.

Deputy Maloney said, rightly, we will all have an opportunity later today to speak out for the most vulnerable in society. Fianna Fáil produced its alternative budget, A Fairer Way to Recovery, two weeks ago. Our aim is to protect the most vulnerable in society. The Government will receive support from all sides of the House if today's budget protects the disability sector and the most vulnerable in society and is progressive, unlike last year's budget which was one of the most regressive of recent times.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Like previous speakers from my party, I welcome Deputy Kelleher's initiative in this regard. It is pertinent that it be debated on this day when the Government is charged with the responsibility of charting the financial course of the Government for the forthcoming year. As Deputy Troy has said, our party and organisation was adamant, in framing alternative proposals, to ring-fence the two areas of health and disability and education. Those are the two sectors that have been most let down in recent times.

A significant percentage of people with disabilities incur additional costs for heating, clothing and day-to-day living expenses above and beyond those experienced by people without a disability. This has been estimated to be as much as one third of average weekly income. The extra cost of disability can affect a person's ability to participate in life-enhancing opportunities and reduce their standard of living, sometimes below the socially acceptable minimum standard. If people with disability are to be equal, the extra cost generated by their disability should not be borne by them alone but by society at large which should act to level the playing field by covering those extraordinary costs.

To date, disability payments and the secondary benefits associated with them have evolved over time to respond to the specific needs of people with disabilities. These form a wide range of packages and measures to redress the costs of disability as well as poverty and unemployment traps caused by particular disabilities. We in Fianna Fáil are proud of our record over the past ten to 15 years in this regard and we apologise to no one for the advances we made, particularly in the provision of a budget specifically designated for the disability sector. We acknowledge that people with disabilities are worried about being able to live independently.

How the Government sees fit to treat people with disabilities was exemplified in the proposal to cut the personal assistance budget. That would have caused real hardship and, thankfully, the Government was forced to do a U-turn in this regard. Disability is a social justice priority for my party, and we believe the disability strategy should be sustained and implemented.


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