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Column: The Government stalls while people with mobility difficulties fall deeper into isolation

The Government had a knee-jerk reaction last year and cut Mobility Allowance to new applicants. Nearly 12 months later, those in need are still in limbo, writes Anne-Maree Quinn.

Anne-Maree Quinn

IN FEBRUARY 2013, the Department of Health announced that the Mobility Allowance scheme was closed to new applicants. Nearly 12 months later, we are yet to see the promised new scheme in place.

A number of concerns had arisen early last year regarding the eligibility criteria of the allowance, such as people over the age of 65 not being eligible. To anyone monitoring the situation it appears that the Government’s decision at the time to simply end the scheme was very much a knee-jerk reaction to the concerns that were being expressed.

Twelve months down the track there is still no alternative to the scheme. It is clearly evident that the Government has shown a lack of forward thinking and planning to the decision taken and even since, as no new alternative has been presented.

The Mobility Allowance is a means tested monthly payment given by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The allowance is paid to people aged between 16 and 65 who have a disability and are unable to walk or use public transport. Under the scheme individuals who have been in receipt of the allowance before the age of 65 will continue to receive it even after they turn 65.

Obvious flaws

The Mobility Allowance Scheme was originally established with some obvious flaws. The scheme had an element of age discrimination as individuals over 65 were unable to access the allowance if they were not in receipt of the allowance prior to 65 years.  Obviously, the likelihood of a person being in need of such an allowance would increase with age as illness and injury are more likely to impact on mobility.

Despite such flaws, the allowance has been described as a ‘life line’ for many.  Most people in receipt of the allowance use it to access their often countless medical appointments, trips to complete domestic tasks such as shopping and bill payment or for social outings. Other people such as full time wheelchair users have used the allowance to pay for their transport to access work.

Following the abrupt end of the scheme last year, it was not until September that the Government informed recipients that they would continue to receive the allowance until the scheme was replaced with an alternative.  For over six months, vulnerable citizens including those at risk of isolation or those unable to access medical supports, were left in an indeterminate state unsure if they would continue to receive their monthly allowance.

Government is clearly stalling

The Government also did acknowledge last year that a new statutory scheme needs to be established that will continue to facilitate the independence of persons with a mobility difficulty. Unfortunately, at this time the scheme remains closed. Any person who may acquire a mobility disability due to accident, illness or age at this time can not access such an allowance. This has now been the situation for the last 12 months.

We all recognise that there are serious fiscal limitations on our health care system at the moment and that we can not spend money that we do not have, however it seems on this particular issue, the Government is clearly stalling. Perhaps the Government is doing so as a temporary money saving measure similar to ceasing the Council Housing Grant applications last year for a period of time. It is however grossly unfair to those citizens in need to be 12 months down the track and still not have a suitable alternative in place.

It is arguable that the allowance can actually be a small stimulus in the local economy via taxi fares and the use of local shops and amenities. The allowance is also significantly valuable in the sense that it can help to facilitate independence and a greater quality of life for people living in our communities at a reasonably small cost to the Exchequer.

It is time that a new statutory mobility allowance scheme is immediately established that will not discriminate against people on the grounds of age and that will contribute to reduce the burden of isolation which can be experienced by those individuals living with mobility difficulties in Ireland.

Anne-Maree Quinn is a Senior Occupational Therapist working in Primary Care in Dublin. Anne-Maree is also an Independent Candidate in the 2014 Local Elections for Pembroke South Dock Ward.

Read: Still no news on Mobility Allowance replacement

Column: I cried when I heard about the mobility allowance cut – I can’t take any more

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