Cost of disability doesn't add up

October 21 2020, 10:56am

income and budget

Opinion piece for The Times Ireland Edition, published Oct. 21,2020

Readers of this paper will be familiar with medical negligence reports from our highest courts. Usually once negligence is proven, millions are paid out, mostly to cover the extra cost of disability. The courts don’t just make this stuff up and their careful calculations are proof that having a disability can be very expensive indeed.

This week the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, DSASP, will send out 33,000 “Cost of Disability Surveys” to customers on relevant disability payments.

It is time to find out who pays the extra cost when no one can be held legally responsible. Mostly no one is responsible, it just happens.

And it can happen to anyone. Of the 641,000 people living with a disability in Ireland today, 70% acquired their disability as adults. It should be a concern for all of us that social protection is extended as it could be you or your family.

Because on average EU countries spend 2% of their GDP on social protection expenditure for disability, but Ireland spends just 0.8%. The second lowest in the EU.

So, we hope you can share our disappointment not to see the cost of disability addressed in last week’s Budget. We were looking for a start to be made with a modest €20 a week to the Disability Allowance, DA, which gives an annual income of €10,608. The urgency is clear when the Ombusdsman for Children estimated in a 2018 report that “the extra cost of having a household member with a disability is approximately €11,158 per annum”.

Tremendous hurt has been caused by the discussions about the PUP payment, (€350 a week) as it brings with it an admission that DA, at €203 a week is not a liveable income for a person. How on earth is a person with a disability to survive?

With great difficulty – Just imagine you had an accident driving to work. Or acquired a disability as you got older, as often happens. You’ve now joined the 13.4% of the population with a disability.

Several unwelcome things happen:

1. A crumbing health service is not equipped to treat you. You and your family end up paying large medical bills and bills associated with ill health, such as taxi rides, extra heating, even the huge parking costs at Irish hospitals.

2. Next your ability to earn a living is badly affected or removed.

3. You may be forced onto state supports like the Disability Allowance. You’ll jump through hoops to get it.

4. Living on welfare, out of work and not finding it easy to even get from A to B, you become isolated.

It’s a vicious cycle of joblessness, poverty and exclusion.

Am I exaggerating? Not according to the Central Statistics Office, CSO. Among people not at work due to disability/illness, Ireland is once again at the bottom of the EU table for “at-risk of-poverty”. More alarmingly that percentage went from 34.4% in 2017 to a terrifying 47.7% in 2018.  So, it doesn’t factor in the huge challenges of Covid.

The Government in the UK have estimated that six out of ten Covid deaths are people with disabilities. If we’re serious about protecting the vulnerable during this crisis DFI believes an increase in disability payments was and is urgently needed.

This collecting of information by DSASP is welcome, but action is needed. We already know the sums don’t add up for people with disabilities.