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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 Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith] It is very clear that there has been a real impact on the quality of life for so many individuals owing to cuts already implemented and people with disabilities are very concerned about not being able to live independently. The decision by the Government last August to announce a reduction in the personal assistant budget caused untold anxiety to many individuals and its partial reversal was necessary.

Recently on Leaders' Questions, Deputy Martin raised the very important issue of young people with disabilities leaving school and having no guarantee of a placement at the end of the year. We must ensure that young adults with an intellectual disability or autism leaving school, who need further support from the disability services, have ready access to a suitable education or training centre. The only children leaving school who are not guaranteed a further education placement are young people with a disability, which is unacceptable.

Over the years I have had the great privilege of attending the graduation ceremonies at training centres such as Drumlin House in Cootehill, and the value of the programmes and training provided in such centres is clearly evident. Not alone do those young people get very valuable training but in most instances they also get work experience, which often opens up a whole new world for them. The employers enabling such placements deserve our commendation. The value of such training at a very modest cost is clearly evident from the participation of the trainees and that sense of achievement is also shared by their family members. We all know many such young people who continue to pursue further studies or go into full-time gainful employment. Despite the budgetary challenges critical services such as these must be maintained and no child or young adult should be denied the appropriate education and training.

As we know, home help is provided mainly for older members of society but a large number of people of all ages who have a disability depend on home support. Over the past 12 to 15 years home help support has become an integral and important part of our overall health and social services provision. There has been a recent unwelcome trend towards privatising those services. Individuals delivering those services have done an excellent job over the years and in many instances the carers gave extra help and time to the person under their care. When speaking to people availing of home help they will inevitably refer to the bond built up with their carer. That care, commitment and additional unremunerated help cannot be quantified in monetary terms or in terms of reducing attendance in nursing homes and less reliance on the health services.

Home support workers provide an excellent service but in many instances they are being allocated particularly short time periods to care for their patients. The increasing trend to have services provided through care companies will result in their workers spending more time travelling rather than caring. The system of delivering home help through the appointment of an individual, who was generally from the local community, worked well. I am not convinced of the merits of total provision through large-scale providers.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I welcome the opportunity to speak on the amendment to the motion and to confirm to the House the extent of the Government's commitment to people with disabilities. It is a pillar of Government policy that people with disabilities should be empowered by policy and programmes to participate meaningfully as citizens in Irish society. The national disability strategy is driven by this basic, but fundamental, objective. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, outlined in her speech last night the extent to which the strategy is being revitalised, with a new implementation group which she is personally chairing, to draw up implementable actions across a range of Departments. These actions will, when finalised, range across all areas of concern to people with disabilities in their daily lives, not just the extensive supports and services which are provided by the health sector to which so many Members made reference, but also in the areas of access and housing, transport, training and employment opportunities and other areas.

The disability forum, convened under the national disability strategy, was vital in informing the implementation group of the needs and preferences of people with disabilities, their carers and family members. The first meeting of the forum on 19 June this year was attended by more than 300 people and a report on the views expressed will be published shortly, and considered for actions in the implementation plan for the national disability strategy. I am confident that the strategy will be significantly re-energised and re-focused under the guidance of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

The Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services, published by the Department of Health in July, has also confirmed what people with disabilities have been telling us for some time. Public consultation processes were carried out by the expert reference group which reviewed disability policy under the review. In response, people with disabilities and their families told us what they thought of the services currently provided under the HSE disability service programme, and what they wanted for the future. Not surprisingly, they told us they did not want more of the same and they told us they want to do normal things in normal places, in other words to participate in society on the same basis as every other citizen. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has stated this on many occasions. It is clear that our services, as currently configured, are not yet fully geared to meet the everyday needs of people with disabilities themselves as articulated by them. As a first step, my Department and the Health Service Executive will be working closely to ensure that the value for money review is implemented, with these aims in mind.

I commend the major commitment of the many people in the Health Service Executive, and in the HSE-funded agencies, who are delivering services to people with disabilities every day and are doing so in a very challenging financial environment. However, I know they also share the Government's view that we need to change our approach to one that is geared towards the needs of people with disabilities in the first instance. This is not always the case at present and the value for money review points out that more efficient and effective ways can be found to deliver services which will be more accountable and more directly relevant, and which can make better use of the available resources as mentioned by many Members during the course of this debate. In particular, the individualised model of supports recommended in the review will, as it is developed further in the coming years, contribute to the greater participation of people with disabilities in the social, economic and cultural lives of their communities, and provide them with access to a range of personal social supports and services to enhance their quality of life and well-being.

I again point to the many areas across Government where services are provided to people with disabilities, not just in the health sector but also through extensive education and training supports. New developments in the area of housing and employment activation show that the Government is pushing out the boundaries even further to enable people to participate more fully in society. The funding provided to programmes outside of the health budget, in addition to the annual €1.4 billion investment by the HSE, enables people with disabilities to avail of an extensive range of financial supports and services. The challenge for all of us will be to ensure that this funding is used to better effect in the future and that it is directed to the needs of the individual in the first instance.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary I thank Deputy Kelleher for affording us the opportunity over the past two days to discuss this important issue. Disability is not just on budget day, but it is all year round. It is a topic that we should discuss on a more regular basis, particularly in order to pursue some of the initiatives the Minister of State just mentioned.

Many of my colleagues have spoken about cuts to services and I also have similar stories. I wish to focus in particular on the delays in the domiciliary care allowance, the hurdles people need to overcome in applying for that allowance, the 63% refusal rate in the first six months of this year and the fact that people who are in very distressing situations with their children are being forced to provide information which in many cases is already available to those making the decisions. There seems to be no recognition that of all the social welfare allowances this is one provided to people in a very difficult situation in dealing with their children. We have spoken to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, on numerous occasions but our requests seem to be falling on deaf ears. Perhaps the Minister of State might bring to her attention that new arrangements need to be put in place for dealing with domiciliary care in order to speed up the decision time, considering the very difficult home situations of those applying for it.


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