Tuesday, 21 June 2016
The Government must adhere to the timeline for ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the end of this year. Work is being done on the legal and legislative changes required for ratification. In parallel, implementation planning is needed for the urgent restoration of practical measures such as home supports, personal assistance, neurorehabilitation services and therapies, and so forth. Previous speakers referred to other measures and many more come to mind. The mobility allowance is dangling by a thread and the motorised transport grant was abolished. Budget 2017, which will be introduced in four months, will indicate whether there is a willingness and an ambition to move beyond words in terms of the importance of the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Not to put a tooth in it, the question people are asking is whether the long-running crisis in disability and mental health will continue to be viewed as acceptable. These areas of health have not been adequately addressed for decades. Austerity measures have brought a vicious and continuing harvest of poverty, exclusion and loss of hope to people with disabilities and their families. The restoration of services that have been lost is the immediate priority and we must proceed on a programmatic basis thereafter.
The ten-year plan announced by the Minister is very welcome and I will make a couple of points on some of the relevant issues and tensions. Every year, we have what are described as the "new disabled". At least 50,000 people will become disabled or require disability or mental health services this year. Disability is, therefore, a societal issue. We do not have disabled people and the rest of us because disability can and will come to everyone's door. Reference was made to an increase of 2.5 years in longevity in the past 12 years, which is a significant improvement. While mortality rates have declined significantly in the past 20 years, morbidity rates have increased. The ten-year plan is extremely important because we should have been planning decades ago. Let us start to address demographic changes, such as longer lifespans and an increase in the number of people living with disabilities and other conditions that reduce their capacity. People with disabilities and their families have been paying the price for the failure to plan.
As people move out of institutions, others, often young men and women, are moving into nursing homes and other institutions. Some health programmes receive statutory support, while others are provided on an administrative basis, for example, personal assistance, home help services and so forth. This has allowed these services to be filed away for the past decade.
Health has always been the default service provider for people with disabilities. When people require education, employment activation, accessible transport, housing and so on, the matter is regarded as a health issue because disability is involved. However, they are issues for the relevant Department, whether education, housing or transport. I ask all Senators to think about this matter because the Department of Health has always been at the short end of the problem. Other Departments have primary responsibility within their remits for the lives of people with disabilities and their families. It is long past time that they faced up to that.
The nature of disability is changing. At one time, the narrative was that there were people with disabilities and able people. That is no longer the case. We are all on the slippery slope. As a result of improvements in health and social provision, many people have what I describe as disabling conditions such as those of an episodic nature. We must reconsider our approach to these issues, which will mean ensuring that Departments other than the Department of Health share the burden. Enabling measures are required to keep people at work and ensure young people move from education into training and employment. Budget 2017 is the first critical step to be worked on.
How did the 50,000 people who will become disabled this year view last year's budget? Most will have asked whether their income had improved or they or their families were better off as a result. This year, however, these same people will view the budget from the perspective of having a disability and will ask whether they will be able to remain in employment, secure a job or continue to function as a parent, look after elderly parents or engage in the community.
I have three requests. First, the ten-year plan must strongly factor in the areas of disability and mental health and find ways to draw in community organisations and groups working in these areas. Second, budget 2017 must restore services.Third, we must focus on community living and participation.
Other Departments and public bodies must get their act together and not leave everything to do with disabled people to the Department of Health.