Budget "utterly fails" those living with disability, say interest groups

Groups say those with disabilities are "being left behind"

Disability groups have slammed this afternoon’s budget announcement as "populist", small change" and "pitiful".

Budget 2017 saw an increase of €5 per week to the disability allowance but a number of representative groups have made it clear the increase does little to improve the daily lives of people living with disability.

Disability Federation of Ireland CEO, Senator John Dolan, said the budget “utterly fails to address issues facing disabled people” in Ireland.

"Over the past decade people with disabilities and their families in all corners of this country have experienced - and had to survive with - major and ongoing cuts to services and supports,” he said.

"I am bitterly disappointed that [the] Government has deliberately chosen to take a populist approach when it could have made a strong start to build back up the social infrastructure to support those who have, and will have, disabilities in Ireland.”

Announcing the budgetary measures, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the social welfare system is a "vital protection against the uncertainty of unemployment, the hardship caused by illness or disability and the challenges one encounters when caring for a loved one".

"Carers, the unemployed, and those living with disabilities may not always have the loudest voices, but their needs are no less real," he said.

"In framing the budget, my Government colleagues and I were conscious of this, and of the need to ensure that the benefits of our economic recovery are felt by all."

However, the CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI), Pat Clarke, called the €5 increase "pitiful and wholly lacking in any attempt to redress seven years of austerity measures inflicted on people with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome.

"In its budget statement, the Government said it was progressing towards a fairer society - how is this progress?

"This is a time of economic growth and prosperity in Ireland, but yet again it is those who are most vulnerable, those with disabilities, who have been left behind. It seems they may never feel the benefit of the recovery.”

Both Mr Clarke and Senator Dolan welcomed the extension of entitlement of medical cards for all children who are in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance as well as the increase in the number of resource teachers.

Mr Clarke said the medical card extension will lift "a huge burden of worry and anxiety from parents."

Access to basic healthcare is a human right and one that will now be guaranteed to all children with Down syndrome," he said.

Disability charity Rehab said the decision to limit reductions in prescription charges to people aged over 70 was "of particular concern".

The charity said disability “knows no age” and does not distinguish between somebody who is 20-years-old or 75-years-old.

A recent survey undertaken by the charity found that 70% of people who use Rehab’s services are finding it difficult to live on the income they receive from the State. 

The charity are calling for the prescription charge to be “phased out and ultimately abolished for all."

Kathleen O’Meara the group’s Director of Communications, Public Affairs and Fundraising said the benefit increases introduced today are “minimal and will have little real impact on improving the lives of people with disabilities."

"Quite simply this Budget does not go far enough to improve the lives of people with disabilities,” she said.

"Every day people tell us they struggle to stay on top of their bills and are forced to borrow to pay for the basic necessities.

"Some individuals and sectors may be feeling a recovery, but people with disabilities are not part of it. Instead, they are being left behind and austerity continues for people with disabilities.”