Article: Anger without action changes nothing for the disabled
Posted January 16th, 2012 in Disability
Sunday Independent, 15 January 2012
No matter how tight money is, we must now deliver to people with disabilities, writes Simon Harris
GREAT outrage without reform never gives a good result. That’s exactly what happened in December.
The Government announced planned cuts to young people with disabilities. People with a sense of social justice rightly reared up. They realised that this group often have to pay more just to go about their daily lives — taking a bus, making a phone call, going to the shop.
This outcry caused the “pausing” of the proposed cuts. Problem solved? No. We need more than outrage if we want to give disabled young people a better deal.
Governments, one after the other, have neglected people with disabilities in the years of economic plenty. No matter how tight money is, we must now deliver. And we must deliver directly to people with disabilities.
Why, for example, should almost 75 per cent of public money spent on disabilities be paid to service providers rather than directly to people with disabilities? Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you’re not a citizen or a consumer, and you’re entitled to be treated as both. People with disabilities should be able to choose what services they want to avail of, what training suits them best or what residential accommodation they would prefer.
Secondly, the Government needs to act on the desire of people with a disability to work. The ESRI did some research showing that two-thirds of young adults with a disability want to work if the circumstances are right. It is a myth and an insult to suggest that young people with a disability want to remain on social welfare. They have just the same ambition and drive as the rest of the population.
But to date, this country has done little to help them get into the workforce. We need appropriate training, education and job supports to be put in place. Give these young people the tools they need to access the workforce. This is the right thing to do and, as if that wasn’t enough, it also makes economic sense.
Some people with a disability may never be able to work — and they must be supported. But we need to differentiate between that group and those who can work but need the Government to realise that they don’t want a social welfare cheque thrown at them. Instead they want the same chance to prosper and thrive as everyone else.
The Government must also address the poverty trap in which many people with disability are caught. This is a well-documented reality. In 2008, a survey across the OECD revealed that more than 30 per cent of people with a disability in Ireland were living in poverty. Shamefully, this is more than two-and-a-half times the figure for the population in general. What a shocking indication of the way our country is failing people with a disability.
A classic example of such a poverty trap is the loss of supports such as a medical card if a person with a disability obtains employment. If you have a disability you are more likely to face higher medical costs than other people of your age. Long-term medication, regular check-ups and being prone to illness are realities for many with a disability. In these cases, the prospect of losing that medical card to take up a paid job is too high a price to pay.
Why not make these safety nets, such as the medical card, independent of employment status for people with a disability? This would set about closing off poverty traps and enabling people to work without fear. This sort of reform is essential if we are serious about bringing down these poverty figures and tackling disability issues with more than platitudes.
It is possible to save money in the disability sector — as it is right across society — but Government needs to recognise that these savings must be secondary to delivering upon the challenges facing people with disabilities in Ireland. It is targeted reform, and not blunt cuts, that will produce the real savings, while delivering full citizenship to a disregarded minority.
One of the biggest problems facing that minority is that the media and the public tend to — rightly — get outraged when they spot an injustice like the cutting of supports to people with disabilities. But once the outrage dies down, the caravan moves on and the group in need of action is left behind. We need to turn outrage into action.