Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy. Were disabled people and their families naive to have expected something more from this budget and to have understood that the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, would be treated as a whole-of-Government plan, with year-on-year progress towards their eventual liberation? Were they naive to have expected that disability inclusion would be woven through the range of measures in this budget? This year, the Oireachtas disability group engaged with all Secretaries General across the Departments with the support and assistance of the Taoiseach's office. There was a commitment at the time to meet the Chairmen of all the Oireachtas committees. Accepting the sensible, critical Brexit priority we have, there could have been a strong, cohesive, whole-of-Government response to disability inclusion in this budget. That hopeful start, involving meetings with the Secretaries General and the Chairmen of the Oireachtas committees, has not borne fruit in this budget. The sad point is that this could have been done without compromising our economic stability. I regard this simply as a lack of attention and will across the system at this time.
The Minister of State will recall he was here at the end of June discussing the summer economic statement. He made a commitment to me that he would consider having an annexe to the budget, a citizen's guide for people with disabilities, that would outline whether things are on the up, on the way down or becalmed. I have not seen such a document produced. I have seen, The Budget in Brief — A Citizen's Guide to Budget 2020, and I did not find what I was looking for in that document. It is more than interesting that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance did not give us the disability inclusion CRPD balance sheet to indicate whether circumstances are improving, static or declining.
I wish to mention a sample of the helpful measures in the budget. These include measures on housing, children, health, healthcare staff and professionals, carers, special needs education, the Christmas bonus and the living-alone allowance. It is only fair to mention these. In the extensive section towards the beginning of the Budget Statement, the Minister was hedging in his analysis, and rightly so. He was suggesting that if such an event happens, then that will happen, meaning we will have money to spare, for example. Such analysis was not brought to anything related to disability or the wider social inclusion areas, including health, housing, education and income supports. I carried out a vox pop today among a number of organisations. The Irish Foster Care Association continues to receive calls from foster carers who provide care for children in foster care who have diagnosed or undiagnosed disabilities. They report a lack of services and physical aids, such as wheelchairs and buggies.This is for people who are taking on the job of fostering children.
According to Threshold, there needs to be a rebalancing of expenditure on homeless services and supports in order to reflect the Government's commitment to homelessness prevention. There are no new or innovative measures to address housing, affordability or prevent homelessness. Only 5% of the 2018 expenditure relating to homelessness related to prevention measures, while over 81% was spent on emergency accommodation. The Irish Deaf Society is concerned that the Government is not making adequate preparations to live up to commitments in the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. It is worried that the number of interpreters will be restricted in the context of the new provisions for public servants, etc., and that there are too few Irish sign language teachers to facilitate the scaling up of provision.
The Central Remedial Clinic welcomes the Minister's desire to help and protect the most vulnerable citizens and comments that perhaps he needs to stop talking about protecting the most vulnerable and start talking about serving and empowering them. The increased allocation in respect of special education is most welcome but an opportunity has been missed in the context of supporting third level and assisting people in moving on to employment and employment supports. A spokesperson for Enable Ireland stated that it sounds as if there is very little targeted towards people with disabilities and welcomes the general reductions in charges, extension of the thresholds relating to medical cards, the provision of additional healthcare professionals, etc. There was little done in respect of housing, with people with disabilities having to compete for scarce resources. Increases in the cost of running a car will hit people's pockets if some remedial measure are not taken.
Inclusion Ireland states that the Government had an opportunity to take action in budget 2020 to promote rights and equality for people with disabilities and to advance compliance with the CRPD. Unfortunately, there is little in this budget that will facilitate any real change for people with disabilities.
The Disability Federation of Ireland states that in the context of people with disabilities, Brexit is just this year's excuse for failing to stop a form of marginalisation which makes us the forgotten vulnerable. The federation adds that no one is more vulnerable than people with disabilities because the poverty rates relating to them have more than doubled since 2011, from 11% in that year to 26% in 2016. These people remain uniquely exposed and unprotected as the spiralling poverty rates show. That is merely a vox pop.
I need not tell people with disabilities where this budget leaves them and that they should be worried and circumspect in the context of events next year, particularly, those to which the budget will give rise. This Government commenced its period in office with a housing crisis and a health crisis. That would have been enough for any Government. Then, only a few months into its term, we had the prospect of Brexit visited upon us. Shortly thereafter came the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the risks relating thereto and now we have climate change. Between the latter two came the ratification of the CRPD and Ireland stating that it would get on its bike and implement the convention. Why does disability not feature in the first division of priorities for and challenges faced by this Government? The budget does not acknowledge or honour the commitment to ratification. Something needs to seriously change in the run-up to the general election.
Finally, those on the Government side may feel a sting from what I have said. Those on the opposing side may have welcome smiles on their faces. I am not trying to please one and upset the other. Let the House remember that the question to be addressed is whether 643,000 people and their families will be heartened or disheartened by being written out of this budget. While disability is a priority issue along with others, it has not been name-tagged as such. There is not one paragraph on the Government commitment to ratify the convention. The Department that put the budget together could not give a state of play for people with disabilities following the budget. It could not provide a disability inclusion balance sheet. There is no mention or evidence of equality-proofing measures of the budget generally mentioned already which would have included people with disabilities. I thank the Minister of State for listening.