Newsletter January / February 2012
Issued on February 13 2012
As we start a new year, it is important to take time to consider our experiences of the year past, and to acknowledge the challenges we face, both as a community and as a country, in the year ahead.
Although the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have both made disability, including mental ill health, their social justice priority, we cannot have confidence that Government understands the impact of the recession on this group. Successive cuts to disability services over the last two Budgets, cuts in the income of people with disabilities, the cut to people”s secondary benefits, such as the fuel allowance, the increase in the threshold for the drug payment scheme, the undermining of the Community Employment schemes, the reduced availability of social housing and housing adaptation grants, all clearly demonstrate the lack of coordinated planning to protect disabled people against the worst effects of the recession.
However, we did make some significant progress in a number of areas that we might not readily identify. Towards the end of last year, Minister Kathleen Lynch reinvigorated the National Disability Strategy (NDS) implementation and monitoring structures, and in doing so she made a commitment to delivering an Implementation Plan within six months. Furthermore, she has involved the City and County Councils and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the NDS implementation process. At the same time, the establishment of Consultative Fora structures in the HSE is something that we have been seeking for many years. This provides us with a real opportunity to work in partnership with the HSE on the realignment and reorientation of services to people with disabilities in the coming years . These are developments that DFI has been explicitly seeking for some time.
These moves by the Government, to pay closer attention to disability issues and engage with stakeholders, are welcome. But to achieve progress on the ground they have to be backed up with coherent, practical proposals from our side, proposals that do not ignore the environment in which the Government is operating. Moreover, we anticipate other developments that will help, particularly a requirement that substantive Cabinet memoranda be disability-proofed and the passage of mental capacity legislation that should allow ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
All of these changes make it easier for us to highlight areas where generic services can be improved to enable access for people with disabilities, and where disability-specific supports are critical to participation. We need to be alert to those opportunities, and share our information and experience to work effectively with the government at local, regional and national levels. In light of the challenges faced and the opportunities opening up, the voluntary disability sector must lead the way. From our work at the coalface, we are in a position to “tell it like it is”, and we have the local knowledge to enable us to offer creative, value for money solutions.
Unless we work actively to get practical implementation of policy, we will see the infrastructure that supports people with disabilities wither even further.
The Government has committed to disability as its social justice priority, and we can contribute to making that a reality. The NDS Implementation Plan is central. DFI will be a keen partner in that project.