Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Topical Issue Debate

Disability Services

5:00 pm

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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We had a debate last Thursday on disability. Politics and being in government is about making choices, in good or difficult times. The cuts in the budget announced in December and its follow-on, in terms of provision for funding for people with disabilities and organisations that provide care and facilities for people with disabilities, are now beginning to bite very severely. The Minister of State said these should be able to provide the same level of care, support and facilities they deserve and need as last year, but there have been budget cuts of 4.5%. The Government said it is less than that but I have yet to be convinced that is correct.

Many organisations are also obligated by the Croke Park agreement and the courts to pay increments to staff. It is clear that the budget cut will be far above the 4.5% I say it is or the 2% the Government says it is. Whoever is right or wrong, the fact is that organisations providing facilities and support for people with intellectual disabilities will have less money to spend this year than they did last year.

This is coupled with other severe announcements, such as the cuts to the disability allowance and the withdrawal of the training bonus. I said I do not believe it was the responsibility of the Minister of State but the Government made a decision over and above her head to cut at the very heart of what we are trying to do as a society, which to be inclusive and allow everybody an opportunity to participate to the best of their ability.

By any stretch of the imagination, the cuts to support services and individuals and voluntary organisations working in conjunction with State agencies to provide support to groups with disabilities was a regressive step. The recommendations made by the National Disability Authority and the statements on attitudes towards people with disabilities reinforce the view that the Government can withdraw facilities and get away with it.

I ask the Minister of State to go to Cabinet and try to raise the withdrawal of the disability and training allowances. Some provision should made for organisations that are trying their best to provide support, facilities and services to people with intellectual and physical disabilities. They will be massively under resourced if they have to implement the cuts ordered by the Government and the increments provided for in Croke Park agreement and by court cases that found in favour of employees. Rightly and justly, it has been found that they are entitled to increments but the money comes from the same pool, which means fewer supports for people with intellectual disabilities will be available.

This is unfair and is driving a wedge between those providing support and services and those that need them because we have to take money from one or the other. That is unacceptable. People are entitled to support and services. Those who went to court to vindicate their rights to their increments also have rights and entitlements. The system should not be pitting one against the other because they work closely together. It is wrong for people to highlight this issue without making financial provision. This is about pounds, shillings and pence, or euro and cent in modern terms, with regard to the issue of increments and support for people with disabilities.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It is about pounds, shillings and pence and unfortunately they are someone else's pounds, shillings and pence - the IMF and the ECB - all because we had a system, which we still have, where despite throwing money at it, we did not change how it operated. That is what we must do now and we must examine seriously at how we treat people with disabilities.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive is required to manage, deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf health and personal social services, including disability services. The HSE service plan for 2012 sets out a reduction of 3.7% in funding for disability services. The service plan states, however, and we fought hard for this, that at least 2% of this should not impact on services and must be generated from other savings and increased efficiencies.

The HSE is involved in ongoing collaborative work with the Disability Consultative Forum, which includes representative organisations and agencies from the disability sector. I am not dismissing those who have had the job before me, because they were as committed to the sector as me, but for the first time ever we had inserted in the budget statement that there would be flexibility for groups of people who deliver a service efficiently and effectively. For the first time, the HSE has the ability to be flexible about the 1.7%.

There are agencies who deliver an incredible service and who are most efficient. One agency reduced absenteeism from 18% to 3%. That must be rewarded; it was an incredible achievement. Cuts should not be applied across the sector to those who are inefficient and to those who are efficient. We must start looking at it in that way. There is a notion there is no fat within the system but there is.

The disability budget has been protected for two years and I give credit to the last Government for protecting it in the budgets before this Government came to power. For that, certain things were asked of the sector. In October and November, the Department of Health, in negotiation with the CEOs and the federation that represented disability service providers, asked which was preferable, a cut to the budget or demography funding. The clear message was that providers could manage from within their own resources if the budget was protected. We cannot say one thing in November and then send letters to parents in March that will frighten them in regard to the position of their children in September. We cannot go on like that. It is unfair on children and parents to face this constant battle every year. Demography funding was given €10 million but we are still saying we do not have enough for children leaving school in June and needing a place in September. A service cannot be run that way.

This is about planning and ensuring the person and the services provided to them are at the centre. The value for money review that is almost complete will give us the information we need. There are excellent service providers out there and we must reward them while bringing choice back to the centre of the debate.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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We all advocate choice but the choices made by this Government are shattering front line services through the reductions in the funding available. No matter how the Minister of State goes about it, there will be a major decrease in front line service supports this year. The access funding and training bonus funding for the Department of Education and Skills have been slashed. We are waiting for the review of the cuts announced in the context of the disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance. When will the decisions be made?

We all accept that many people live in vulnerable and challenging times. We have put in place the best supports we think are possible with the resources made available but choices must be made about where to draw the line. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the Government has wielded the axe in a blunt and arbitrary manner, affecting those who most need supports and services. At the same time, in other parts of the budget, the exact opposite has been done.

I am not saying the Minister of State is personally responsible but at some stage the Cabinet must stand up to its obligations to ensure those with intellectual and physical disabilities have a right and entitlement to express themselves as fully as they can in society and that they get the support of the State. Service providers and those who support them in a voluntary capacity do not have the resources to do this, coupled with the fact they will have to make incremental payment increases this year, meaning it is more than 2%. It could be 5% or 6% and if that is the case, there will be a fundamental problem whereby those with intellectual disabilities will be left behind.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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This exaggerated notion is wrong and is not how we should conduct our business. It is an exaggerated claim because there will not be catastrophic effects on front line services. We are negotiating about service level agreements with service level providers and that will be managed. I come back to the fact that we cannot agree to a service plan in November before a budget and then four months later say it is no longer possible. That is exactly what was done every year and I saw it happen with Deputy Kelleher's Government and those that went before.

This is about a plan that will ensure stability and security in the system and we can do it. People with disabilities tell me every day that they might have a disability but they are not sick. We must bring a different skill mix into the service and we will be able to do that. The people with disabilities will have a better service and more control over that service.