DFI Review of the first 100 Days of Government 11th May - 19th August 2016
Issued on August 23 2016
People with disabilities are the largest minority group in Ireland and the only group that any one of us can become a member of at any time. The most recently available census figures (2011) record that 600,000 people in Ireland have a disability, equivalent to 13% of the national population. At least 1 in 10 adults of working age have a disability (15-64 years). Disability is age-related and increases sharply with age. Three out of every five people aged over sixty years has at least one chronic condition.
The programme for government sets out a comprehensive list of ambitions to improve the life of people with disabilities, but good intentions are not enough. People with disabilities were left further behind because of the recession. For many of these citizens, their potential to live a full and productive life is severely curtailed by the legacy of cuts in funding and services. This Government has promised people with disabilities that things will be different.
Right now, it is too early to say whether this Government will bring about the positive changes needed for a fairer Ireland that truly values people with disabilities. The programme for government offers encouragement, but improvements in people”s lives will only come about if these commitments are delivered upon.
The big test of the Government”s credibility is fast-approaching. The Budget in October will underline if the Government”s commitment to disability goes beyond rhetoric and election promises and is, instead, rooted in a desire to end the exclusion and depravation that many people with disabilities have endured for generations in our society. In order to guarantee the incomes and services that people with disabilities need in order to play a meaningful role in society, this Budget must deliver so Ireland can begin to undo the damage done by seven years of austerity.
At the same time, Ireland needs to act quickly to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). The fact that we are now the only country in Europe that has failed to ratify this international treaty is increasingly becoming a blight on our reputation as a socially progressive country. To this new Government”s credit, they have given a firm commitment that the UN CRPD will be ratified by 31 st December 2016. To bring this about, the Budget has to deliver the resources necessary to guarantee that persons with disabilities will progressively enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others (Article 10, UN CRPD); ensure the equal rights and advancement of women and girls with disabilities (Article 6, UNCRPD); and, protect children with disabilities (Article 7, UNCRPD). Practical everyday areas such as employment, health and personal social services, housing and education all need to be improved.
Following the Budget, Government needs to publish its cross-departmental implementation plan within credible and ambitious time-frames to deliver on the substance of the UN CRPD and the complementary commitments in their programme for government. The publication of a credible and ambitious implementation plan can give confidence to people with disabilities and their families that their inclusion needs are being seriously addressed by Government.
This is also a fundamental value-for-money issue. As people live longer, the numbers of people acquiring a disability will continue to rise. If Ireland does not show the foresight to strongly invest in tackling the deficits in services for people with disabilities, we will inevitably end up poorly using public money for decades to come. Money will continue to be wasted on very poor and inappropriate services, resulting in diminishing outcomes for people with disabilities and for taxpayers.
If a strong start is not made through Budget 2017, the Government will be midway through its five year term, before this can happen – four years after the end of the recession. People with disabilities and their families live in every part of Ireland. They are children, they are of working age and they are older people. They, and their families, have also had to deal with the general attrition that all families experienced over the long period of austerity.
In regard to commitments, the first 100 days can be viewed as promising, yet what is now crucially needed is implementation. In regard to delivery, there have been a few initiatives announced by Minister Finian McGrath TD relating to school-leavers, as well as additional funding for national residential standards and the provision of emergency residential places. “Rebuilding Ireland”, the Government”s action plan for housing and homelessness, missed an opportunity to set out comprehensive disability housing commitments and we look forward to seeing these in the coming months.
Commitments remain promises until they are delivered. From September to December of this year, a clear picture will emerge as to whether this Government has the political will to convert its promises into deliverables that will enhance the lives of people with disabilities. Budget 2017 has to resource disability inclusion and the ratification of the UN CRPD. The ratification of this international treaty will provide the ambition to drive year on year implementation. If the Budget does not provide the resources necessary to advance disability inclusion in keeping with the UN CRPD, “A Programme for a Partnership Government” will have lost faith with the 600,000 people with disabilities and their families before its first year in office has concluded.