Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
Even before Covid-19, supports and services for people with disabilities and their carers were woefully inadequate. The equality that is demanded by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, is not, and was not, a reality. For the past six months, the hardships that all of society has gone through have disproportionately fallen on those with disabilities and carers, with the closure of day care services, schools and so on. While it is welcome that day care services are now reopening, as they will not reopen at full capacity a hell of a lot more must be done.
There needs to be serious acknowledgment of carers. Carers are paid €230 for doing a huge State service. That amount is derisory in the first place, but the double burden that carers have carried over the most recent period means that a bonus payment should be made to those carers to acknowledge the extra service they have given in recent times. I make that direct call to the Minister for State and the Government. We rightly praise our healthcare workers for what they have done but we often forget about carers and the heroic efforts they have made over the recent period.
The Government has acknowledged that the pandemic unemployment payment, originally proposed to be €203 per week, was not enough for people and had to be raised to €350. That has implications for the disability allowance payment because if we rightly recognised that €203 was not enough for people who lost employment as a result of the pandemic, by the same token it is not enough for people with disabilities, particularly when they have significant additional costs such as paying taxi fares and all sorts of other things. We must look at increasing that disability payment for carers.
I would also like to mention the campaign that Access for All Ireland has waged and pay tribute to Sean O'Kelly and Bernard Mulvany for highlighting the unacceptable failure to properly maintain lifts and ensure access to the public transport system. It was a victory for the campaign that a welcome additional €3.3 million was announced to fix 12 stations in Dublin. That is welcome but still leaves many DART stations with serious problems. That money will not be translated into changes until 2024. Six lifts were out of service on the DART line yesterday. The day before, five lifts were out of service. The day before that, six lifts were out of service. A similar pattern was repeated in the weeks before that. It is not enough that the work will be completed in 2024. We need all of those lifts to be properly maintained in order to ensure that we get real access, and equality of access, to public transport for wheelchair users, people with mobility problems and so on.
I will speak briefly on the school transport issue. I have said the following to others in the past and I will say it to the Minister of State now. It would be a win-win situation if the Minister of State engaged with some taxi drivers whose employment opportunities have significantly diminished. A number of taxi drivers are already involved in school transport and many others are crying out for work. As we have said, there is a significant deficit in school transport, in particular serving children with disabilities and special needs where there may be concerns about Covid-19 and so on. I suggest that the Minister of State engages with the representative organisations of taxi drivers to discuss how they could assist to address the school transport issue, particularly for those with disabilities. It would also be beneficial for a cohort of workers who are in real trouble and need additional support.
The Minister of State's remit is partly within the Department of Health but she also is covering a whole range of other issues. It seems to me that given our commitments under the UNCRPD, the issue of disability should be taken into the Department of the Taoiseach. That could allow a cross-departmental approach that is needed for the disability sector.