Issued on September 11 2009

Reflections on the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes from the National Disability Strategy Perspective

Disability Federation of Ireland
11 September 2009

The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) is the national support organisation and advocate for voluntary disability organisations who represent and provide services to people with disabilities and disabling conditions, including hidden, intellectual, mental health, physical, sensory and emotional.

The overarching objective of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (McCarthy Report) was to "Review the scope for reducing or discontinuing Expenditure Programmes with a view to eliminating the current budget deficit by 2011" . At the launch of the Report, July 2009, the Minister for Finance made reference to "meeting public needs and promoting fairness" and the need for "a collective social effort and not one motivated by protecting one's patch or pursuing one's special interest to the exclusion of all else" . He went on to say that

"All of us, including those of us in public administration, will have to accept that the old ways of doing things need to be looked at afresh, so that we can deliver excellent public services with the dramatically lower level of resources now available."

The national interest

In fact Ireland has a clearly identified "national public interest" and a "new way of doing things" that should be guiding policy decisions at this time. The framework is set out in the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016 whereby public services are designed around individuals and their requirements as they move through life stages, rather than based on different administrative boundaries.

NESC in Ireland's Five- Part Crisis: An Integrated National Response (March 2009) reiterates the value of the developmental welfare state model with it's three overlapping areas of welfare activities namely services, income support and innovative and activation measures.

"These three areas can provide essential services and stability at a time of economic crisis, maintain employment and make available creative and innovative spaces for new approaches to building social, community and economic capital". It recommends a response "based on social solidarity and a positive perspective on Ireland's future prosperity. It would combine high-level coherence with maximum engagement and local problem solving. It would take short-term measures that have a long-term logic".

Measuring the impact of the Report's recommendations

The McCarthy Report, which approaches expenditure in Department by Department compartments, needs to be considered from the perspective of this over-arching national interest with its person-centred, developmental welfare focus. The lived experience of how public service delivery, from each Department, is experienced by individuals and families happens in a whole of life and collective way, where multiple decisions across an array of Departments impact collectively and in real time on the person. People do not live their lives within the institutional framework of any particular Department.

The public administration challenge

There is a serious challenge to all those with responsibility for public administration, to adjust and correct the impact of decisions to reduce public spending by taking into account the person at the receiving end. Both the partnership agreement and NESC have singled out the services deficit experienced by people with disabilities and the implementation of the National Disability Strategy as a key national interest priority. The recommendations in the McCarthy Report have to be stress tested against the capacity of disabled individuals and families to be in a position to credibly, and in a sustainable way, carry the burden. Expenditure decisions also have to pass a further test, namely will they allow for the continuation of a disability infrastructure (The NDS) which is still being put in place.

The Report's recommendations hit people with a disability in many ways via different Departmental budgets. Some proposed cuts directly target disability-specific supports, such as the €50 million reduction in funding to voluntary disability service providers, the 5% cut in disability benefit and the reduction in the number of Special Needs Assistants. But other recommendations also have an adverse impact, such as reductions in rural transport, diminished funding for community programmes, discontinuation of a double payment for CE schemes. Especially disheartening from a mainstreaming vantage point, are the cutbacks in general services where people with disabilities are already precariously positioned as the most marginal users.

The cumulative affect on a disabled person and their family if the Report's recommendations were adopted is cause for alarm, as the figures in the Appendix explain. Decisions must not be made by Departments considering their own ‘turf'; a Government-wide analysis of the recommendations is critical.

The NDS as part of the national interest

DFI is deeply concerned that adoption of the Report's recommendations, without applying first a disability-proofing test, will undermine the National Disability Strategy, a key part of the national policy agenda. In responding to the Report it is imperative that the whole Government reinforce that Strategy, and protect the valuable social infrastructure that is under construction. Such a response would strengthen Ireland's reputation at home and abroad as a credible implementer of sustainable social policy.

DFI recognises that resources are much more limited than formerly, making it all the more important to demonstrate how Government plans to maintain the integrity of the National Disability Strategy through the crisis. In our view those plans have to incorporate a whole of Government, cross-Departmental sweep, setting out the ambition and resolve to progress implementation as a continued priority. Right now such plans must influence the estimates and budget preparatory work.

What should be happening now

Each Department needs to implement a plan aimed at protecting the NDS in relation to its public and social service provision. That plan has to address how people with disabilities will be able to avail of the general services and provision by that Department as well as any disability specific programmes that it is responsible for. In other words departmental decision making needs to be disability proofed against the vision and long term goals of the NDS as set out in "Towards 2016".

That planning has to have regard to a number of critical areas:

  • Protecting the significant investment that has already been made in the NDS
  • Being in a position to make substantial progress in parallel with recovery
  • Responding to the extensive and growing level of unmet needs
  • Working actively with other Departments, public bodies and the voluntary disability sector
  • Realising that there is a well articulated and agreed social policy context in relation to the provision of public and social services in Ireland
  • Understanding that the "McCarthy Report" has to be implemented within the context of Government's agreed policy position on disability as set out in "Towards 2016" and the "Agreed Programme for Government".

Along with this happening within each Department it also has to happen across all Departments. Government and its Departments must actively and urgently plan to protect the NDS. If this is not done it is our view that the NDS will be deeply compromised by the end of this year. DFI asks each Department to reflect on this perspective, and on its role as part of a larger national project in protecting the National Disability Strategy, when it comments on the McCarthy Report


Indirect impacts of McCarthy Report Cutbacks on Individuals and families with disabilities

Arts, Sports Tourism-Reduction in grant to Irish Sports Council impacts on SIDO positions in local counties = people with disabilities and families who have benefitted from the work of the Sports Inclusion Disability Officers in their local areas will lose out and may not be able to participate in community activities to the same degree as before. Greatly reducing social and leisure activities for people with disabilities.

DCRGA-Discontinuation of Dormant Accounts Fund=Further cutbacks to the community and voluntary sector which leads to a reduction or discontinuation of supports and services to families and people with disabilities

Individuals and families with disabilities will lose their broad support base in the community. the cutbacks above will result in the loss of : Community Development Programmes and all the community self and mutual support groups which they operate, a reduction and in many cases the discontinuation of programmes and projects specifically targeted in local communities to support the most vulnerable people, and the loss of specialised programmes such as individual counselling services. With less income and less community supports and services to turn to the individual or family living with disability will truly become more disadvantaged.

DETE- end of dual payment Fás and DSFA on CE /other schemes =just having a disability means Increased cost to PwD to participate on schemes thus reducing incentives to train for employment /development (also reduces integration by discouraging progress)

Reduction by up to 20% in the number of SNAs in primary and post primary schools =children with disabilities having less equal opportunity to stay and succeed in mainstream school environments

Introducing a limited fee for special needs school transport = families already pressed for money will also have to pay more to ensure their child can get special transport to mainstream or other schools

DETE- end of dual payment Fás and DSFA on CE /other schemes =just having a disability means Increased cost to PwD to participate on schemes thus reducing incentives to train for employment /development (also reduces integration by discouraging progress)

The potential impact of the McCarthy Report cutbacks on the individual & family with disability

DHC-introduce co payment of €5 per prescription under GMS and Long –term illness scheme=family members who are ill long- term already on low incomes paying €5 more every time they need a prescription.

DHC-increase hospital charges, =people who are working but who are not in the high income bracket will pay more for hospital care for themselves and family members increase % of care costs under ‘Fair Deal' contributed by the individual from their residence=the amount of money extracted from the value of older peoples homes to pay for their care will increase, reducing the income available from the asset for other uses. In the case of older parents of a child with a disability who may need accommodation when the parents have passed away, this is worrying as the main secure asset for many families to leave to their child with a disability has traditionally been the family home.

DEHLG-amending the criteria for LA housing lists=PwD consistently unable to gain local housing in sufficient numbers. Any amendment increasing this difficulty will result in fewer PwD living independently in their own community. forcing dependency on families and a return to institutions

DSFA-cut in social welfare payment, and no dual payment of FIS with other SW payments =with all the additional costs, the social welfare payment being reduced or for those on low incomes now receiving FIS means that families who are already experiencing financial pressure will be under increased pressure.