Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Motorised Transport Grant Closure
I raised this issue last September. The Minister of State and I know about the situation at this stage. I refer to the motorised transport grant, payment of which was suspended in 2013. It was given to people with disabilities who needed to buy cars in order to retain employment or in exceptional circumstances to those with severe disabilities who lived in isolated locations and could not use public transport.
When I first raised this issue, I gave the Minister of State the details of a woman who has been looking after her husband since 1995. He contracted viral inflammation of the brain and suffered considerable brain damage. He has epileptic fits, suffers from depression, has word finding problems and problems with comprehension and memory. He had a further heart attack in 1999. This woman needs a car. There are consultant appointments on a continuous basis. She is driving an eight-year old car. The motorised transport grant allowed her to change her car every few years. She is in a desperate state following the suspension of grant payments.
When I raised the issue last September, I told the Minister of State that her car was seven years old and she would have a problem if it broke down. The engine collapsed and she bought a reconditioned engine using a loan from a credit union. She is now living from day to day. She needs to bring her husband out for a cup of tea. She cares for him 24 hours a day because she is the only one he will allow to care for him given his medical condition.
Last September, the Minister of State said the Government has decided that detailed preparatory work required on a new transport support scheme and associated statutory provisions should be progressed by the Department of Health. He confirmed the work is at an advanced stage and that the drafting of primary legislation was almost ready to go.Since then I have received a copy of a letter that was sent in 2013 by the Secretary General of the Department of Health to those in the HSE in County Mayo. It stated the Government had agreed an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach would be asked to develop detailed proposals for the operation of a new scheme or schemes and that it would report back to the Government in October 2013.
We are now some four years on and it is four months since I raised the issue. I know the Minister of State is aware of this particular case and I am sure there are multiple such cases throughout the country. Something really needs to be done to solve this situation. As I stated when I previously raised the issue, this family could have pursued the State for the treatment as others who got awards of hundreds of thousands of euro did at the time, but they are so honest and all they wanted was for the support and care to be given at home and, basically, to save the State money. However, here we are in a situation that has not improved. The problem is this woman feels she has no hope.
I thank Senator O'Mahony for raising this matter on the Commencement and welcome the opportunity to outline the current position. I absolutely take on board and am aware of the case about which he spoke. As the Senator will already be aware, conscious of the reports of the Ombudsman regarding the legal status of both the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant schemes in the context of the Equal Status Acts, the Government decided to close both schemes in February 2013. I feel it is important to clarify that there are no plans to restore either of these schemes as they previously operated. However, the Government is aware of the continuing needs of people with a disability who rely on individual payments which support choice and independence. In that regard, monthly payments of up to €208.50 have continued to be made by the Health Service Executive to more than 4,700 people who were in receipt of the mobility allowance. Therefore, in the region of 4,700 people are receiving €208.50 per month.
The Government decided that the detailed preparatory work required for a new transport support scheme and associated statutory provisions should be progressed by the Department of Health. I am pleased to inform the Senator that the programme for a partnership Government acknowledges the ongoing drafting of primary legislation for a new transport support scheme. Both the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and I are committed to its progression as soon as possible. I can confirm that work on the policy proposals is at an advanced stage and I anticipate that this will be brought to Government shortly. In that regard, the Health (Transport Support) Bill is included in the Government’s legislative programme. The proposals will seek to ensure the following: that there is firm statutory basis to the scheme’s operation; that there is transparency and equity in the eligibility criteria attaching to the scheme; that resources are targeted at those with the greatest need; and that the scheme is capable of being costed and is affordable when introduced on an ongoing basis.
The Department is seeking a solution which would best meet the aim of supporting people with severe disabilities who require additional income to contribute towards the costs of their mobility needs, while keeping within the available budget and satisfying all legal and equality concerns. The challenge is to develop a new scheme on a statutory basis, within a limited budget, targeted towards those with the greatest need. I can assure the Senator that the matter will be brought to the Government for consideration and decision as soon as possible. I look forward to what will be a valuable and constructive debate when the Bill comes before this House in due course.
I thank the Minister of State. He spoke about equity and the need to target resources. What does that mean to those whose case I highlighted today? What does it mean to those who cannot cope in such situations?We spoke about a television programme that was broadcast last night. If a television programme were to carry out an investigation into the case I have raised, there would be further uproar. It is time the Government took a proactive rather than reactive approach to this issue. I urgently appeal to the Minister to ensure the criteria developed for the new system take account of cases such as the one I have raised.
When fighting for resources for various parts of the health and disability sector, I prioritise those most in need, particularly the 4,700 people who are in serious need. I accept the Senator's point about the specific case he raises and the need to be proactive and take the lead on this issue. When we entered government almost 12 months ago, we stated action was needed in introducing legislation on the motorised transport grant. I had not realised the issue had been discussed four years ago by the previous Government or other Secretaries General in the Department of Health. I give the Senator a commitment to do my best to progress the matter. While the legislation is being finalised, it is unacceptable that so little progress has been made in the past four years. I will work closely with the Minister to get up and running on the issue.