Green Paper – Reform needed but current proposals flawed and inadequate   

January 17 2024, 03:20pm

green paper

Green Paper – Reform is needed but the current proposals are flawed and inadequate   

The Context 

DFI has advocated on disability poverty and the insufficiency of our current social protection provision for many years – see our most recent Pre Budget submission to the Department of Social Protection. Low levels of employment and the very high extra Cost of Disability compound the need for urgent system change to ensure people don’t fall further below the poverty line.  

We have continually called for a specific poverty reduction strategy for disabled people, and for a weekly Cost of Disability payment to be introduced, as a starting point to address these issues. The current approach to social protection does not deliver Ireland’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).  

The Department of Social Protection’s Green Paper on Disability Reform is a signal that government understands that change is needed. However, what that reform should look like and what systems change is required needs further consideration, as the proposals outlined within the Green Paper fall far short of the required approach to bring much-needed positive change. 

Launch of the Green Paper on Disability Reform 

While what was originally called ‘the strawman proposal on disability payments’ was in the pipeline for some time, disability organisations, including DFI, had no engagement on or input into what was included in the proposal, or what areas it would cover, in advance of its publication. The Green Paper on Disability Reform was launched by the Department of Social Protection on 20th of September 2023, providing DFI and many others with the first opportunity to review its contents. By its nature the Green Paper is a document to instigate discussion and debate and we are engaging in this process, as a mechanism to raise our concerns regarding the current proposal.  

Many Concerns 

Like many other disability organisations, representative bodies, Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) and disabled individuals, DFI have several concerns about the Green Paper. We have heard directly from worried and fearful people in the community, and from concerned DFI member organisations, as well as anti-poverty and civil society groups we work with. There is great concern that the proposals as they stand will simply put more pressure on many people with disabilities, without addressing the structural barriers that prevent them from working, or the ongoing income inadequacy of current disability payments, given the extra Cost of Disability. We recognise the anger of many disabled people across Ireland who will be directly impacted by the proposals in this Green Paper. Their criticisms echo many of our key concerns. 

Public Consultation Process 

DFI attended the Department of Social Protection’s public consultation events in Dublin, Cork, and Athlone in recent months, listening carefully and voicing our own concerns. We have also ensured that our members are aware of the Green Paper Consultation, encouraging them to participate in the process, and to support the tens of thousands of people they work with to have their voices heard. Like others, we advocated for the consultation deadline to be extended, given the complexity and significance of the Green Paper proposals. 

DFI Member Consultations 

In November DFI held two consultations which were open to all our 122 member organisations. These consultations aimed to inform members about the Green Paper proposals, and to hear their concerns and thoughts, and those of the people they work with. This has informed our position and given a mandate to our submission. There was significant and rich participation in these consultations, from a broad spectrum of organisations, and from across the country. DFI members are very concerned about the implications of many aspects of the Green Paper, and report that the people they support in the community are deeply worried.   

We will be making a submission to the consultation before the revised deadline of 15th March, and welcome feedback and ongoing discussion in the interim.  

DFI’s concerns regarding the Green Paper 

Our position, which is in development, is that the Green Paper as it stands will not deliver on its stated aim of tacking poverty and low employment rates. We hope that the many concerns being articulated strongly through this consultation process will be heard by the Department of Social Protection, and by this government, and that a change in approach occurs.  

Specifically DFI believes that: 

  • UN CRPD should be the starting point: It is very concerning that five years after Ireland’s ratification, the UN CRPD is not mentioned once in the Green Paper. The proposal relies on a medical rather than social model of disability. Any disability reform should be rooted in the UN CRPD, especially Articles 28 (adequate standard of living, 27 (work and employment) and 19 (independent living). The starting point should be delivering people with disabilities’ rights and entitlements and supporting independent living. 
  • Income Adequacy: The social protection rates being proposed in the Green Paper, even the highest ‘Tier 1’ rate of €277.30, are significantly below the standard poverty line and those recommended by the Minimum Essential Standard of Living. That is without also factoring in the extra Cost of Disability (an extra weekly cost of €167 to €236.54, as per the Indecon report). These rates will not be near sufficient to reduce disability poverty.  
  • Conflating Two Different Issues: The Green Paper conflates two different issues – the extra Cost of Disability and the question of ‘capacity to work’. The paper assumes that those with the highest extra Cost of Disability are those with the lowest ‘capacity to work’ – we believe this is an incorrect assumption.  
  • Mandatory Employment Engagement: At present there is no requirement for people receiving disability social protection payments to engage with employment services and supports. The Green Paper proposes that people assessed as ‘Tier 3’ would be ‘required’ to engage with Intreo and take up reasonable offers of employment and training. This is particularly concerning given issues around the broader context as we outline below. The Department has indicated they expect that potentially 50% of existing social protection recipients would be assessed as Tier 3.   
  • Ignoring the Broader Context: The Green Paper is silent on the broader structural and support infrastructure problems that disabled people face daily, despite its expectation that significant numbers of people go out and get jobs! It does not acknowledge the ongoing and chronic lack of sufficient and accessible public services for the disabled community - health and social care, Personal Assistance Services, regular accessible public transport, housing issues etc – nor does it engage with the many other structural barriers to employment. It is also silent on the role of employers.  
  • The Process of Consultation: The significant changes proposed in the Green Paper have caused a lot of fear amongst disabled people, their families, and the organisations that support them. There have also been issues with the consultation process, including access issues and the complexity of the 47-page document. We are pleased that the submission deadline was extended, something we advocated for.  

Next Steps 

This current Green Paper is not the prescriptive remedy to the broken disability social protection system. The Department of Social Protection has indicated that the proposal’s aim is to encourage discussion and critique, towards suggested alternative approaches to address the consistent and escalating poverty rates of those living with a disability in Ireland. They, and the Minister for Social Protection, have said that nothing is decided yet. In this context we stress the importance of consultation with experts by lived experience themselves, and their representative bodies, in line with Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD. To ensure meaningful participation any consultation must include all impacted parties including disabled people, service providers, representative groups, families, and care givers.  

It is positive that the Green Paper acknowledges the need to take action to tackle high disability poverty and low employment rates. An adequate consultation process must take regard of the concerns voiced, the long-standing recommendations of many disability organisations like ourselves, and the alternatives proposed and act upon these. This is the only way that a proposal can be developed that addresses the concerns of the disability community, and vindicates and delivers disabled people’s right under the UN CRPD to an adequate standard of living and to continuously improving living standards.  

Ireland lags way behind in the EU on this – ranking 24th of the EU 27 for its disability poverty rates. 2022 poverty data from the CSO shows that one in five people unable to work due to long-standing health problem (disability) live in consistent poverty. This is the highest consistent poverty rate of all economic groupings. Also one in two people (44.3%) live in deprivation, compared to the national average of 17.7%. This cannot be allowed to continue. 


Disability Federation of Ireland 

17 January 2024