Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Disability Services

10:30 am

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending. I appreciate his time. I have submitted a Commencement matter to call for the publication of the Indecon report on disabilities. The Minister of State will be aware that I was the Minister in 2018 when the Cabinet was good enough to give the money to do the research. As with most of us, I can see daily that the social welfare supports on offer from the Department of Social Protection and various other Departments do not really cut the mustard when it comes to recognising the extra costs incurred by people with disabilities. I am pleased, therefore, that we are welcoming this morning the publication of the report late last night and the statement from the Department of Social Protection.

The aim of the report and research was to gain a better understanding of the costs faced by people with disabilities daily. It is not just a question of money, although money is incredibly important and although we need to, and be seen to, put our money where our mouth is. The additional costs are unaffordable to those with disabilities, as borne out by the research. The research shows the genuine challenges associated with independent living and the risk of high poverty and social exclusion among people with a disability who are lucky enough to be able to live independently. It shows that the increased payments, access to services and the provision of targeted grants programmes actually work, and it highlights the fact that the approach needs to be more targeted and effective. It shows the difficulties faced by people with a disability in accessing employment and the significant challenge faced by employers who are willing to take on people with a disability in ensuring the process is smooth. It also shows that additional supports are needed for those most in need. Those who have a disability face the most deprivation. We need to challenge and change our payments system and allowances to recognise that people have different kinds of disabilities and, therefore, different costs associated with living their normal lives.

We need to recognise the loss of earnings and sacrifices of families who are offering care and support. In many cases where a child is disabled, the parents have to stay at home. In a significant number of families, parents, including elderly parents, care for an adult with a disability in the home. The most important aspect of the report to me is its highlighting of the mistakes of the past in not making every scheme, support or service the State offers central to the individuals we are here to recognise and support.

I welcome the publication of the report. I was the person who had the privilege of ensuring it would feed into the practical changes in policy associated with the commitment in the programme for Government. Therefore, I am genuinely dismayed that the report will be sent to a steering group, the national disability inclusion strategy steering group. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, who has been doing incredible and mighty work in this area for the past 18 months. The Taoiseach's office absolutely needs to take the lead and co-ordinate a coherent response across all Departments. The Taoiseach is the only person who has the power and might to make sure every single Secretary General of a Department responsible for providing disability services and every single Minister will come together under a special Cabinet sub-committee to ensure there are quarterly reports related to the recommendations in the report and that everybody will be held to account. This is not just about the Department of Social Protection although we absolutely need to see an increase in the budget next year for people with disabilities; it is also about a coherent Government response and living up to the commitment we made in the programme for Government.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Doherty for raising this issue and for all her work on it in her previous role. The cost of disability is the extra cost faced by people with a disability in their day-to-day lives that others in society do not face. This extra cost is a direct result of the person's disability and would not arise otherwise.

Research conducted in Ireland and internationally over many years has shown that there can be significant costs associated with disability. As the Senator is aware, to gain a better understanding of these costs the Department of Social Protection commissioned Indecon to conduct an independent cost-of-disability study. The report was presented to the Cabinet and published yesterday, as the Senator has noted.

The programme for Government commits the entire Government to use the research into the cost of disability to individuals and families to properly inform the direction of future policy. The Senator mentioned the Minister of State responsible for disabilities, Deputy Rabbitte. This matter of costs and disability allowances falls under the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, at this juncture, but it is obviously a whole-of-government consideration. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, apologises for not being able to be here.

This report confirms earlier studies that show that people with disabilities face significant additional living costs by comparison with people without disabilities. While some of the costs are met by the State, further improvements cannot be delivered through income supports alone and require the broader perspective the Senator spoke about. The research finds that costs vary across several dimensions, including age, the severity and nature of the disability, and household type. There is no one single or typical cost of disability but, rather, a range of costs. Indecon estimated this range, using both a costs-studies method and an equivalence approach. The cost-studies method is based on over 4,734 responses to a survey of people with disabilities. The equivalence approach applies econometric techniques to data from the annual survey of income and living conditions of the Central Statistics Office.

Indecon, using both a direct-costs approach and an income-equivalence approach, estimated that the overall average annual cost of disability in Ireland ranges from €9,482 per annum to €11,734 per annum. Additional costs of disability go across several areas of expenditure, including: housing; equipment, aids and appliances; mobility, transport and communications; medicines; care and assistance services; and additional living expenses.

The report recommends that additional costs of disability should be based on a multifaceted approach involving increased cash payments, enhanced access to service provision, and specific targeted grant programmes. The report also recommends that disability payment levels should reflect the very different costs that arise depending on the type and severity of disability. Furthermore, the concentration of any additional supports should be targeted at those most in need and who face the greatest additional costs. The report also highlights that increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be a priority.

This matter is significantly wider than the income-support system under the Minister for Social Protection, as implied by Senator Doherty, and it is clear that the solution will not be found in a specific income-support payment.The findings contained in the report have implications for many areas of public policy, including delivery of care, health, housing, education, transport and income supports. That is why the whole-of-government perspective for which the Senator has advocated is being taken on this issue.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I welcome everything the Minister of State has said on behalf of the Minister. I know the memorandum to Cabinet yesterday only sought permission to publish the report. What we need to see now is action on the recommendations. I know from speaking to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, that she will bring the report to the steering group next week. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and I both know that the might of the Taoiseach's office is needed to direct and manage the recommendations on a quarterly basis. We are one third of the way through the term of this Government already. We have a real commitment in the programme for Government to make a tangible difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

As the Cathaoirleach knows, Senators speak week-in, week-out about the conscious and unconscious biases faced by people with disabilities. We have a real opportunity to address the financial burden people with disabilities live with weekly and to recognise the extra supports that are needed. I know this will cost hundreds of millions of euro, if not €1 billion, but it is time for the Government to show the true measure of the decisions that are made and the real positive impact we can make for the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people and families living with a person with a disability and for the State to support them as we truly wish it to do.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for her comments. The Government is keen to address the concerns raised by the people who live the daily reality of disability and it will use the results of this research to inform measures to address the issue of cost. People with disabilities have widely differing needs and the extra costs of disability do not arise to the same extent in every case. Basic standard income support is unlikely to address properly the costs incurred by those most severely limited by disability. As we have said, measures should be based on a multifaceted approach. The approach taken will be the one most suitable to improving the economic and social position of people with disabilities. The Government has agreed that the national disability inclusion strategy steering group will consider it. The group is chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who has responsibility for disability across Government. Actions taken across all Departments will be monitored bi-annually through the process. The next meeting will take place on 15 December and Indecon will present the report to stakeholders.

It is important to acknowledge that the Government is already taking or has committed to take many actions under the national disability inclusion strategy, Pathways to Work, the roadmap for social inclusion and Sláintecare that will improve living standards and outcomes for people with disabilities. As the Senator will probably agree, the Taoiseach has a track record of advocating for people with disabilities and getting involved in the minutiae of policy across a range of Departments, so I have no doubt he will be highly involved in this. Although the group will be chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the Taoiseach takes a very keen interest in disability issues and is keen to get results from this and the Government in that regard. The Government will continue to take positive steps to ensure people with disabilities have the opportunity and the supports necessary to play a full part in society.

Sitting suspended at 11.23 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.