Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Last week, the Dáil passed a Social Democrats motion to provide a €20 weekly cost of disability payment in the upcoming budget, recognising the additional cost of disability. Individuals and families dependent on disability allowance, the invalidity pension, domiciliary care allowance and other payments desperately need this increase. Given the Government has already agreed to this increase, I ask the Minister to outline her plans to implement this in the forthcoming budget.
The Indecon cost of disability report identified that the additional cost of disability is a wider issue than income supports and crosses a number of areas of expenditure. These include housing, equipment, aids and appliances, care and assistance services, mobility, transport, communications, medicines, and additional living expenses. The cost of disability can be defined as the amount it costs a person with a disability to achieve the same standard of living as a person without a disability. There is not a single typical cost of disability. Rather, there is a spectrum from low to high additional costs, depending on individual circumstances.
The findings of the research have implications for many areas of public policy and extend beyond the remit of the Department of Social Protection and, therefore, a whole-of-government perspective is needed to address the cost of disability. That is why the Government referred the report to the national disability inclusion strategy steering group, which Is chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for disability. This group comprises relevant Departments, agencies, a disability stakeholder group and people with disabilities. The group will consider and monitor recommended actions required by the various Departments biannually.
A number of the measures I introduced as part of budget 2022 in support of people with disabilities and their carers address some of the findings of the report and will go towards alleviating some of the costs experienced. These include a combination of increases to income disregards, core weekly payment rates and supports for employers. My Department is also committed to the development of, and consultation on, a straw man proposal for the restructuring of long-term disability payments. The main objective is to simplify the system and remove anomalies. The straw man will also take account of the cost of disability report when developing future options as part of this work.
I agree regarding the wider cost of disability highlighted in the Indecon report. We know from the Department's report that additional costs faced by individuals with disabilities range from €8,700 to €12,300 annually, on average. We also know that nearly 40% of those not working due to disability are at risk of poverty. That figure is three times higher than the general population. While all families are facing a cost-of-living crisis, it is being experienced more acutely by disabled people, given that they face additional costs. With the PUP, the Government established that €350 is the rate of payment that individuals should receive, yet disability allowance remains only a fraction of that at €208. Our motion last week, which the Government agreed to, called for at least a €15 increase in the disability allowance. The Minister mentioned an increase in the core rates. What increase is she looking at for the next budget? Will she answer my first question on the cost of disability rate, which is separate to the core rates of the social welfare allowance?
There is no recommendation to do this in the Indecon report. It states that the worst outcome for people with disabilities would be giving a little to everyone. That is not what we should do. We need to target this. We are looking at doing this better, with a tiered approach to disability payments. For example, a person with a profound disability who might never be able to work would get a higher level of payment than a person with a more moderate disability who is able to work. That is a fairer, more sensible approach, which means that resources are targeted at those with the greatest need. This is not without challenges either, because naturally everyone will want a higher payment. My Department is currently working on a straw man proposal relating to what this payment structure might look like. This complex work is ongoing. I want to get it right.
The Minister keeps referring to the Indecon report. Like I said, I agree with it. She said it recommends a targeted support rather than a bit for everybody. The motion we tabled called for a €20 cost of disability payment targeted at those people who need it the most. The Department's report and the Social Democrats' motion called for an action plan to implement that cost of disability report. It outlined the scale of the barriers faced by people with disabilities. Those obstacles are only increasing with the cost-of-living crisis. It is only an account of the situation. It demands an action plan for a strategic and well-resourced response to these systematic issues. The action plan to implement the disability capacity review is taking too long, but at least there is a plan. My last question, although answers to the other two would be good too, is about whether there will be an action plan in response to the cost of disability report. The report was only published after sustained pressure. Will it require the same pressure for the Minister to develop the action plan to go with it?
The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is heading a cross-departmental committee and leading the whole-of-government response through the disability inclusion strategy steering group, which she starts. In fairness to her, she is pushing that work on. She is a strong advocate and is passionate about the issue of disability. My Department is looking at the recommendations relating to the cost of disability payment. As I said earlier, we will develop a strawman proposal on that. I do not want to do so without consulting stakeholders. I was not found wanting in this year's budget when it came to supporting people with disabilities. I will not tell the Deputy what is in the next budget, but she can be assured that I will look at issues across the board, particularly with regard to people with disabilities. That is part of the budget negotiations. I was not found wanting in this year's budget, where I changed a number of things. I changed Catherine's Law so that people who had secured a scholarship could go on to do their master's degree. I am conscious of the challenges facing people with disabilities, but I am also conscious that there are profound, moderate and mild disabilities. I want to provide the most supports to those who need them most, since others do not need as much.