Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Committee on Budgetary Oversight
Annual Budget Disability Proofing: Disability Federation of Ireland
I welcome Dr. Joanne McCarthy, senior executive officer, policy and research; Ms Joan O'Donnell, development manager; and Ms Fiona O'Donovan, policy and research assistant, Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI. I thank them for making themselves available to the committee. We are meeting them to discuss the approach to disability proofing in the budget. It is a useful opportunity at this stage in the work of the committee to consider the progress that has been made in introducing the equality budgeting pilot programme and to hear the views of the federation, as a national stakeholder.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I refer everyone to the usual note about telephones and their impact on the recording of our work here. As everybody knows, nobody switches off their phones.
I invite Dr. McCarthy to make her opening statement.
Dr. Joanne McCarthy:
I thank the committee for inviting us to participate in this debate. This is the second year in a row that we have participated and we will build on the submission that we made to the committee last year.
The DFI is a national support organisation that has a membership of 120 organisations, which span a range of small to large household organisations. Members can peruse our website to get a better understanding of what we do but we strive to do three main things: we support the development of organisations to provide good quality services; we are involved in forming and monitoring disability policies and procedures; and we support the participation of people with disabilities at local, national and international level.
Last year, when we were here we called for disability to be included as part of the equality budgeting process. We acknowledge the developments that have taken place since then. In particular, we acknowledge the establishment of the budgetary expert advisory group in September and the commitment that was made in budget 2019. I commend the committee and the Government for listening to us and implementing these things. However, I remind people about an earlier commitment by the State to keep in mind budgeting for people with disabilities. Under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the State has a responsibility to ensure that public bodies take into account proactive and positive measures that affect people with disabilities. This is known as a public sector duty and extends to disability proofing budgets. We commend the developments that happened in 2018 but we see them more as delivering on the commitment to introduce disability proofing in the programme for Government. Obviously all of this must be put in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, that was ratified by Ireland in 2018.
I will not refer to our key high-level goals for equality proofing in general because I am sure that the members, as a committee, know them. The DFI has taken the time to consider the commitments. In light of a report that was released today, we have taken a quick look to see what was formerly achieved. Even though we view the commitment to establish a working group and stitch disability into equality proofing measures as positives, we feel that what has been delivered falls significantly short of what should be achieved if one is going to disability proof budgets. My colleagues will probably highlight some of the key areas that they feel need further development. Ms O'Donovan will talk about the lack of ambition that exists when it comes to proofing disability specific stuff within health and when it goes out into other areas such as housing. Ms O'Donnell will talk about what disability proofing means in the context of poverty and social welfare.
I ask members to take a step back for a minute to consider who we are talking about when we talk about disability proofing for people with disabilities. Often when we talk about policy, there is a very different interpretation of the population at hand in legislative and budgetary terms. According to census 2016, more than 600,000 people or 13.5% of the population identified themselves as having a disability. When we talk about disability and disabled people we often zone in on people who receive services, predominantly from the disability services budget. It should be borne in mind that only 27,000 of the 630,000 people with disabilities in Ireland receive day services, of whom only 8,500 access residential services. When talking about disability proofing the budget, if we only consider disability proofing health budgets, and specifically disability budgets, that will fall significantly short of the population of disabled people in general. I encourage members to keep in mind that when they think of budgets, they must think beyond the 35,000 people in receipt of core disability services.
Ms Fiona O'Donovan:
I will elaborate on what Dr. McCarthy has set out. We made a submission on the Revised Estimates for 2019.
We note in our submission that appendix 10 lists the various indicators thematically. There are nine themes. Disability now has its own theme since the budget announcement last year. Theme No. 2 is listed as Ensure People with Disabilities have Equal Opportunities and Supports.
Let us start by saying there are very encouraging indicators within that. In particular we note the moves to focus on community-based supports. Indicators for health, for example, focus on community-based supports. One of the indicators is the number of personal assistant hours provided to people with a physical disability, a sensory disability or both. Others focus on putting people with a disability into the community. That is significant move in the right direction and very much in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Our concern is that the indicators do not measure what needs to be measured. They measure the low-hanging fruit. We will not get the outcomes we are aiming to secure.
One example of this is the measurement of personal assistance hours. Personal assistance services are a fundamental support, not just to get people up out of bed but to get them out into their communities and enable them to participate in society through employment, education, sports, cultural activities etc. Measuring the number of hours allocated overall fails to go into the detail. We need to measure the number of people getting those hours and the number of hours allocated per person. Are people allocated a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours at night? That basically serves to get someone out of bed and put them back into bed, with no assistance in getting out and living life. That is what we mean by saying that we need to go further and really measure the core concerns. Moreover, we must look at the number of people who are not getting those hours. Is there a waiting list? Do we even know what the unmet need is? Are we measuring things correctly? There is conflation of and an overlap between home care services and personal assistance services. Home care is basic support with getting up and getting ready for the day. Personal assistance is aimed at moving out into the community. We encourage the Government to use more in-depth indicators that really get down to the kernel issue.
I will skirt over another example, which pertains to housing. There are only two indicators that concern housing. One concerns special needs units and another concerns the availability of grants. People with disabilities are one of the largest groups of people who qualify for social housing need in annual social housing needs assessments. Are we counting the number of social housing units allocated to people with disabilities per year? That would be a useful indicator. We must drill down into the detail a lot more to really assess the impact.
Moving on from that, we note that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities encourages disability-specific measures, such as theme No. 2, which target the very particular situation for people with disabilities. However, we also need to see mainstreaming. That means that we should be able to see disability considered as a thread throughout all of these initiatives. Theme No. 6 is Equality to Access to Housing. We would ask if disability considerations are evidenced within that theme and throughout all the different themes. An example from last year's budget was the Government's announcement of a tax incentive for repair works. We do not know if that tax incentive is available for improvements pertaining to accessibility. We are not sure what is meant by improvements and we posed a question to the Minister. To my knowledge we have not yet received a definitive answer. That is what we mean when we talk about mainstreaming as a part of budget proofing. I will leave it there and Ms O'Donnell will take over.
Ms Joan O'Donnell:
I have four very brief points to make. They are all concerned with social protection, income and employment measures to ensure better equality proofing of budgets. To build on the statistics that Dr. McCarthy and Ms O'Donovan have shared, 154,351 people with a disability in Ireland live in consistent poverty. That is one of the highest rates of any group. These figures are based on income figures. They are not based on goods and services and how much money these people need to pay out. This grossly underestimates the number of people in Ireland living in consistent poverty who have a disability. This very much needs to be addressed in equality budgeting and disability proofing budgets. We welcome the measures undertaken by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, to look at the cost of disability and caring. There is an urgent need for any work done under that to be stitched into equality budgeting.
We would also like to comment on the Minister's intention to benchmark social welfare payments. We believe they should be based on the minimum essential standard of living, on which a lot of work has been done by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, rather than being tied to the consumer price index. The issue of income adequacy needs to be addressed in a way that will lift people above the poverty line and ensure that people's dignity and rights to a minimum income are secured. This is provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the European Pillar of Social Rights. This states that people have a right to live with dignity and to an adequate minimum income that raises them above the poverty line. The consumer price index is of little relevance to the lived circumstances of people with disabilities who are reliant on social welfare. The Central Statistics Office concurs that it is not a reflection of the cost of living and acts purely as a price index. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice has done a lot of work on a minimum essential standard of living, which we would advocate instead.
We need to keep in mind measures for people with disabilities who wish to work and who could stay in work. It is very hard for people with disabilities to enter the workforce. They are more likely to leave employment than to enter it. They are also twice as likely to leave a job and to exit the labour force as those without a disability. Today's report mentions some of the measures of the Make Work Pay report as being implemented. There are 24 recommendations in that report and only three of them are mentioned as being progressed. Regarding equality budgeting, we ask for recommendation No. 3, which provides for reasonable accommodation to be reviewed, and access to adequate aids, appliances and assistive technology in the workplace, to be revisited. Work adaption grants and the whole concept of reasonable accommodation should be revised to make them fit for purpose.
I will leave my comments there. I am very happy to answer any questions on any of them.
I thank the witnesses for their public and community service. We tend not to wear political hats here. We are coming at this from the perspective of budgetary oversight. There are many competing demands and, over the course of the year, we meet people representing all of them. It would be fair to say that the Chair and the committee have taken gender budgeting and disability budgeting to heart as one of the significant themes we have dealt with in the past year. We produced a report and brought it to the floor of the Dáil and the attention of the Minister. We raised it with the Minister to encourage him to go beyond including a statement.
This is an issue on which we have kept an eye. We have gone through a limited number of themes this year, have taken it very seriously and will continue to do so. For some of us, including me, the witnesses' first presentation was eye-opening. We continued to look at the issue and engaged with the Scottish Parliament, although that had more to do with gender budgeting. We have done quite a piece of work on it and we will not be letting it go. I am ashamed to say that it opened my eyes. I had not been aware of the impact of budgetary measures or of the lack of consideration. A consciousness is developing. I acknowledge the witnesses are clearly saying that is not enough but it is a first step.
The three Deputies here are in the throes of local election campaigning at the moment. After the referendum last year, it came to light that many places which do not have disabled access are still selected as polling stations. It is mad that whoever is responsible for this selection - in my own county it is the county sheriff - is not conscious of this issue. It needs to be addressed. We will all have received calls from people who were turned away on polling day. That is not good enough. These people were not able to exercise their franchise. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The State is providing opportunities to change the world. Referenda are pretty significant things from a democratic perspective because they give the public a right to a say. The most recent referenda certainly have resulted in life-changing decisions. It is not good enough that some people are not able to participate in that. The problem is that the issue disappears after two or three days. That highlights the issue.
With regard to the figures the Disability Federation of Ireland has given, do its representatives believe that people with disabilities are doing proportionately less well in terms of personal assistance hours? Deputies are queuing out the door in their respective community healthcare organisation, CHO, areas, including CHO 7, seeking home help hours for people with early onset dementia and so on, who are not classed as disabled. Are people whom the federation classes as having disabilities faring proportionately less well?
I have tabled a parliamentary question - and I am sure my colleagues will do the same - with regard to the number of social housing units built for people with disabilities. Deputy Brophy and I were members of South Dublin County Council. With regard to the federation's figures, between 5% and 10% of South Dublin County Council developments are reserved for people with disabilities. Units cannot always be reserved in developments of five or ten units, but in developments of 30 to 40 a unit or two is always reserved. I do not know whether that happens nationwide. I believe most social houses are designed to facilitate that nowadays. I have put in the parliamentary question and we will see what the figure is nationally.
The witnesses mentioned something really useful, which is the role of assistive technology in the workplace. I believe it has a role in the home as well. We are fortunate to have Amazon in our constituency. It is running a pilot programme with the university hospital to use its Alexa technology to remind older patients when to take their tablets or to take their exercise, for example. There is an increasing role for assistive technologies in the home which is yet to be explored.
The issue of equality of access to education really needs to be explored. The witnesses might develop on that. This also covers people who are not classed as having disabilities but who have intellectual needs, such as people with autism spectrum disorders, ASD, including Asperger's syndrome and autism. It seems to be very difficult for such people to access traditionally established schools whereas new State-built schools, including Educate Together schools, are more open. This needs to be addressed. There is almost an invisible cultural barrier in this regard.
From a budgetary oversight point of view, we look at what the Government and Departments spend and allocate. Taking the representatives' points on board, is the federation faring less well than other groups that have come before us and who will come before us between now and the next budget? That is my first question. What else do they think we can do-----
I am finishing now anyway. I have asked my first question and will move on to the second. We can only do so much. We cannot provide services. We can continue to highlight in our report the need to take a step farther than was taken in last year's budget in terms of gender and disability budgeting, which we will, in order to increase consciousness of the issues and to encourage people to look at the nine areas. Perhaps we could chat about this on another occasion in order to ascertain how to influence these Departments and how to let them know that they are not doing enough in certain areas and that it is something about which we are really serious and which needs to be considered across Departments in formulating budgets. It is not enough for the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform to embrace the need for it, although he does; each Minister needs to get onside with it. Perhaps the witnesses have suggestions in that regard.
Ms Fiona O'Donovan:
Certainly. I thank the Deputy for engaging so substantively with the points. To pick up on the issue of social housing allocation, I believe the Deputy is referring to the Part M regulations and requirements around allocating certain proportions of developments of a certain size for social housing and, thereunder, for people with disabilities. An issue to flag in respect of the Part M regulations is that they require that a newly-built unit of accommodation of whatever type must be visitable by a person with a disability, for example, a person using a wheelchair. I note, however, that "visitable" is very different from "liveable". A person may be able to get in the door and get to the living room and kitchen, but will there be access to the toilet or to the bedrooms? Can a person have full use and enjoyment of the house and of the garden, should there be one? There are issues in that regard.
There are also issues in respect of linking up the requirement for accessible housing with the number of those being given social housing assessments and their needs. Significant inroads have been made in that regard, for example, social housing needs assessments are now yearly rather than every three years. That will help in giving more informed detail. There also have been moves to thread allocations through the housing disability steering group, which is informed by people with disabilities and people who support such people and which informs the council's planning and provision of social housing. That will also help, but it all takes time to bed down. In the interim, the number of people who are having difficulties in accessing social housing or, for that matter, private housing is building. That is one thing to flag.
As to whether people with disabilities are faring proportionately well in terms of housing, the answer is that people with disabilities represent the second largest group of people on social housing waiting lists after homeless people. We hear of the homelessness crisis but we do not hear of a crisis in respect of inaccessible or inappropriate housing for people with disabilities. Make no mistake, however, the lack of accommodation for people with disabilities is a crisis within a crisis.
Members should not make a mistake. The lack of appropriate accommodation for people with disabilities is a crisis within a crisis. As the Government tries to implement its policies around de-congregation, it needs accessible housing in the community. If that is not synching up, all that will happen is that blockage will be pushed down the line.
Coming back to the overlap and the concept of budget proofing, one in four people who are homeless have a disability. That is not how the issue is talked about. Homelessness, older persons and disability are seen as discrete areas because that is the main basis on which assessment is allocated. There needs to be a rethinking of that.
Ms Fiona O'Donovan:
I believe that is from a report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, from 2018. I would be happy to verify that and send it on. Significant research was carried out by IHREC at that time about the types of disabilities and where they were showing up. Contrary to what many might think, it is not only mental illness that these homeless people are suffering from. They could be suffering from physical, sensory, intellectual and all types of disability. I would be happy to furnish that to the committee.
Ms Joan O'Donnell:
I want to come back to Deputy Lahart's point about technology not just in work but in the home. We very much agree that we need to look at this in Ireland. Ireland's approach to, and service provision for, assistive technology to support people with disabilities of whatever age, and older people, to live independently, to access work and education, lags way behind other countries such as the UK, Australia, Denmark and others. We are doing quite poorly, by international comparisons, in that regard. The DFI and Enable Ireland have been doing much work under the banner of FreedomTech to model an appropriate service and complete ecosystem of supports for people to live independently. It would help to deal with transitions from school to work because, at the moment, for example, if one has technology supports while at school, one cannot take that technology into the workplace. The grants available and overall access are quite poor. Trying to get hold of the technology for a smart home to be able to live independently is also quite difficult.
In 2017, we published a discussion paper with almost the entire disability sector expressing what we would like. I can make that available to the committee. We have also costed a pilot to roll out an assistive technology passport which would be the one record of a person's assistive technology needs, their support and training needs around it and so on. That passport would be owned by the people themselves. We would put them at the centre of their own expertise for their technology needs, which is exactly what the NDA is suggesting. We costed that pilot project at €1.5 million, which I am also happy to share with the committee. We are very keen that that will be given consideration in budgetary oversight to ensure that people can live independently and be in charge of their own lives.
It is particularly critical for work. The Department of Justice and Equality is due to roll out one of the Make Work Pay recommendations which, as I mentioned previously, is about ensuring that we have the grant schemes to support people in work but the work on that has not commenced yet. It has a budgetary implication and we are keen to see that commenced. I am definitely with the Deputy on wanting to see the technology progressed.
Dr. Joanne McCarthy:
The Deputy's questions have spanned all of our organisation. We will have to go back to our colleague on the education question. We could talk about it but I do not feel we would give the right answers. We will come back to the Deputy with a written response on that.
We were before the health committee on the personal assistance, PA, service issue only last year. It has formed a core part of the DFI's work. I do not know if the committee has been following who we are but we are branded on community supports and infrastructures to enable people to live with dignity in their own homes and communities. This is possibly the most important service to enable people to live, and continue to live, at home. In saying that, only 0.3% of people with disabilities are in receipt of a PA service. There is a significant lack of investment in that service model.
We do not have good data because the reporting conflates PA and home supports. One cannot disaggregate the data but we suspect that any increase in those figures is reflective of an increase in home supports rather than PA.
We know from 2017 data we have managed to disaggregate somewhat that there is probably a little over 1,000 people in receipt of PA hours, 900-odd of whom receive less than five hours a week, which is tiny. We will send on the figures to the committee and make sure they are right because I am working from memory.
PA hours are a problem for people with disabilities. Most people with disabilities acquire their disability at working age. One in four people will acquire a disability at working age. Most people are not born with their disability. These people are probably married with their own homes and jobs. In many cases, the disabilities are neurological and progressive in nature and, therefore, their need for services such as PA home supports is critical to enable them to continue to live in their own home, sustain family ties and a job, even if it is on a part-time basis.
We cannot urge the committee enough, with its budgetary hat on, to find a way to understand the need and put a budget to it. It is very difficult because the HSE does not keep waiting lists on PA. It stopped doing that a number of years ago so we do not know the scale of the need for people in the community seeking PA services.
People often lose their PA hours if they have a relapse and end up in hospital. They often cannot sustain tenancies they may have and those are the people who end up in nursing homes. The newspapers reported last week about a man in his 30s who went into a hospital because there was a progressive onset of his condition. He lost his PA hours when he came out and ended up in a nursing home.
DFI is doing significant research, examining the 1,400 people under the age of 65 who have been inappropriately placed in nursing homes. PA is one of the critical elements in stopping them coming back out and living in the community.
If the committee puts it budget hat on, it will be important to begin to explore how best to put sustained investment into a service that people with disabilities value highly and are dependent on to be able to participate in, and sustain, independent living. Most of these people will only have a small draw on the expensive and heavy disability services programme that gets €1.9 million. That is important to highlight and I am glad the Deputy brought it up. I would be happy to come back and talk to him about it if he wishes.
Ms Fiona O'Donovan:
I will add a supplementary point from a budgetary perspective and bang for one's buck. I totally understand that the committee is coming at this from a budgetary oversight perspective and cannot, at this point, talk about how the budget needs to be spent. However, the committee members can ask the questions and set the indicators that can highlight an issue.
One approach is to link personal assistance to housing. I will not go through the social housing allocation process but one applies and qualifies, followed by the allocation process. People with disabilities can be blocked from taking a social housing allocation after years spent on the social housing waiting lists. They may be blocked on the basis that they cannot get PA hours. There needs to be a synch-up to ensure these things are happening in a timely fashion. The committee can ask questions that go to the heart of that such as asking how many people are in receipt of PA and how many have had delays in taking up social housing due to the lack of community-based services. There are questions which can be asked to inform.
I thought I had plenty of time, but I should have taken the Chairman up on the offer he made when I came in. I have to chair another meeting now and I was speaking in the Dáil Chamber earlier.
Although I missed the start of the Disability Federation Ireland presentation, I have read the opening statement. The overriding points come through very clearly. There is a reference to nebulous information. It is really important to have figures from the Department and drill down into them. It is not just about the hours people are getting but the quality of those hours.
In a budgetary process, it is very difficult to calculate the positive impact of early intervention in any scenario. For a relatively small amount of money, early support can prevent very significant costs in terms of healthcare, mental health and active living. Can we use international best practice to quantify that? I run the risk of sounding desensitised because I recognise that this relates to real people and their lives. How can those involved in the budgetary process make the argument for people facing the challenges of independent living and wanting to pursue their lives, goals and dreams like any of us would? We know it makes sense to invest a small amount now for tremendous economic returns, never mind the societal benefits, etc. The committee will take the points the witnesses have raised and feed them into its work with the Department in the future.
Ms Joan O'Donnell:
I am delighted to hear what the Deputy had to say. Our member organisations deliver services that are not even covered or understood by service agreements, which is the contract they signed with the HSE because these are very much what would be referred to as "soft" services. As Dr. McCarthy has pointed out, we have been grappling with the matter for a number of years. We have made an application under Sláintecare and we have our fingers crossed. We have been in contact with some people in NUI Galway and in Scotland who can use systems dynamic modelling, a process which shows what happens when one part of the system is removed - if one support is taken away, it shows what impact that might have on acute admissions, nursing home admissions and so on. We have our fingers crossed that we might be back here this time next year informing the committee as to what the exact impact has been. Obviously, that also relates to budgetary issues. If we do not get that funding, we might be back to the committee for-----
Deputy Lahart has covered much already. I will focus on one or two matters specific to us. Has Disability Federation Ireland received any assessment of the impact of last year's budget on people living with disability? Have any of its member organisations done any such analysis for 2019? That would obviously be critical in helping us with this year.
The second issue links to that and follows on from Deputy Heydon's comments. I ask about similar processes in other parliaments - international best practice - in disability-proofing budgets. Is there anything the witnesses have picked up that could be fed into us? I refer to anything that has evolved in the past 12 months or in terms of where we are going with our work as a committee and where Government is going with its work on it. Those two items are very specific to the committee's work, but they are at the heart of what we are doing: last year's feedback and international best practice.
Ms Joan O'Donnell:
They are both very good questions and we welcome them. In terms of best practice, since 1998 Ireland has had poverty-impact assessments which were set up by the office for social inclusion in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. While they were looking at poverty, the assessment is designed to be taken on board by all Departments. It sits under the national action plan for social inclusion. We hope we have a strengthened commitment under the new national action plan, which we expect to be announced on Wednesday, 22 May, and that stronger measures will be put in place. We would welcome a strengthening of that muscle via the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that all Departments are actually poverty proofing and disability-proofing or equality-proofing budgets in advance of making budgetary decisions so that those metrics can come into play when making budgetary decisions. At the moment the poverty-impact assessment is done only within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and maybe in one or two other Departments - I cannot be certain. However, it is done after the budget rather than informing budgetary decisions.
Ms Fiona O'Donovan:
On the point of international best practice, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is all about linking in with the lived experience of people with disabilities. There are avenues for that within this budgetary process. In our submission we flagged, for example, the advisory group that has been established. There are some great insights already evident and experts on that group. However, to the best of our knowledge there is no disability-specific representation giving insight. The benefit of that, as I hope we portrayed in last year's submission, is that it gives insight into the lived experience of something operating in practice. We would be encouraging that to be worked in systematically through direct consultation.
Disability-proofing is in its infancy around the world. There are examples of it. Much of the writings on it that I have found have built on the gender-proofing initiatives. I know this initiative is very much developing on it. The best people to give the insights on how to expand on that are people with disabilities themselves.
In terms of the budgetary evaluation of last year, we did an internal assessment of how the provisions measured up against what we would have been hoping to see and had requested. We would be happy to tidy that up for external viewing and send it on to the committee for its consideration. I hope that might be of some assistance.
On international best practice, the European Union has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities meaning the EU, as a legal entity, has legal responsibilities just as Ireland has from our ratifying. That is relevant because the EU has already been through the assessment review by the United Nations committee and that committee has made recommendations. One of the recommendations specifically relates to how funding is allocated, particularly relating to what the EU calls institutionalisation and what we call congregation. The committee also recommended that the EU provide criteria relating to where it will give funding so that it will only give funding to initiatives that are compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It should have oversight throughout that process and review whether funding is being used in line with the application procedure and if not if there are ramifications. It went so far as to recommend that funding might have to be cut off where it is not being used.
It is not exactly equality budget proofing, therefore, but there are examples of where it is being threaded throughout or having to be looked over and where oversight is being practised in terms of implementation. I would be happy to send on to the committee a bit of documentation about that.
Dr. Joanne McCarthy:
That is a very interesting question. I love the first one and I love the more high level stuff. One of the key concerns of the DFI with last year's budget has been the fact that, looking at it from the top down, it seemed to us in our analysis and assessment that the disability budget is being increasingly consolidated around that core disability group, namely those 27,000 people and those 8,500 people in day services. There is very little available within the HSE disability spend.
Dr. Joanne McCarthy:
It is because that is what they see under section 38. That funding is the Vote. What they see is their core responsibility under the Vote. Increasingly over time, our analysis has been that there has been a greater consolidation around how they spend their money on that specifically. Even though the policy is towards mainstreaming and supporting people to live in the community, for the services that are required to enable a person to do that, such as the personal assistant the home supports and the respite, that person receives little or no investment through the budgetary process because it gets eaten up. It is important for us to understand that.
The other matter we would like to point out and that the DFI has been strong on for a while is that when budgets are planned for in a singular way and when a budget is planned for Department by Department, unexpected consequences can happen. We were involved in an initiative here within the Oireachtas in January of last year where three Departments came together, namely, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Health. They began to look at some of the common themes that happen. We have again managed to unearth that.
We were part of the Oireachtas disability group, ODG, and only about a week or two weeks ago we were in and the Department of the Taoiseach brought in the Secretaries General of each Department with the ODG to talk about how they could look at bringing about sustainable change and to look at the links that happen across Departments. Our findings and analysis and what we are hearing back from our members is that we cannot look at one particular measure only without it being stitched in with another measure with which it has a relationship. A perfect example is the access to assistive technology, which Deputy Harty brought up earlier. If assistive technology is available within primary school, when the transition is made into post-primary school, unless it is a third level college, a student will not have access or resources to access technology there. Even if the student does get it at third level, once he or she is finished, he or she hands back that technology and has to reapply when entering into the workforce. There is no assistive technology passport that shadows the person to make it easy to transition from those points, and these are critical matters that can be planned while budgets are being prepared.
I would say the committee has discussed it already. Unfortunately, I was caught asking business questions in the Dáil but I welcome the witnesses to the committee and we obviously have to consider carefully the key recommendations they will bring forward.
I thank the witnesses for their information. It was an interesting exchange and set of questions. I would ask the witnesses to make any additional information they are supplying to any Deputy available to the secretariat to the committee so that we can ensure that all Deputies can access it. I thank Dr. McCarthy, Ms O'Donovan and Ms O'Donnell for their contributions today.