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Column: It's unacceptable how much people with disabilities are having to fight

Disability specific services are being cut and those with disabilities who are being refused medical cards – and people have had enough, writes John Dolan.

John Dolan

IN THE FINAL Prime Time debate before the General Election, when asked by Miriam O’Callaghan what would be the one key social justice issue that they would pursue if they were in Government, both Eamon Gilmour and Enda Kenny said that it would be people with disabilities.  Since then, it is safe to say, that the Government has not lived up to this commitment.

People with disabilities have been hit hard over the last few years.  There has been a consistent ‘chipping away’ at services and supports, and a complete lack of understanding by the Government of the challenges that people with disabilities are facing when trying to live an ordinary life.

The promises that never materialised

Still in people’s minds is the experience of 2012: key government health budget plans failed to materialise,  there was an increase in deficits and, in the summer, the Department of Health named cuts to services for people with disabilities. At the same time funds dedicated to mental health and other disability services were shifted to reduce the ballooning deficit incurred in other parts of the health system.

And in 2013, people with disabilities were again hit, with the abolishment of the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant, cuts to special needs assistants, cuts to the housing adaptation grant and not enough day places for school leavers with intellectual disabilities.

People with disabilities and their families have had enough!

People with disabilities being refused medical cards

We regularly get calls from people with disabilities, and their families, talking about how the cuts have impacted on them. Over the last few weeks, we have had a number of calls from people with disabilities who are being refused medical cards. These are often people with multiple disabilities who need that support.

Up until now, it would have been a matter of course that they received the card, but now, not only are they being refused outright, but they’re also being refused on appeal. The stress that this puts on the person involved and their families is enormous.

We are also being contacted by a number of people where their disability specific service is being cut, whether that is the hours that they are receiving in a day service or with a personal assistance service. There is now a long waiting list for personal assistance services – services that assist people to live in the community, and this has a knock-on effect on not just the person with the disability, but their extended family.

Special Needs Assistants cutbacks

A particular case that we have heard about concerned a young child with a complex disability who is moving into primary school and will not be getting a Special Needs Assistant due to cutbacks.

The child doesn’t need to be in a special school, and the Government policy is to support mainstream education provision, but the class sizes in the school are large and therefore will exacerbate the impact of not having someone to support the child in the classroom.

People with disabilities are feeling threatened by the likelihood of more cuts to income and services happening in the Budget in October.

The Government has taken an inconsistent approach, supporting austerity measures with one hand, while at the same time aspiring to be socially inclusive, and it is just not working.

After five years of austerity, services for people with disabilities are at a stage where there isn’t the capacity or the funding being made available to meet the needs.  The Government needs to ensure that services can meet the needs that people with disabilities have, it is unacceptable that people with disabilities and their families are having to fight for services that they are entitled to.

John Dolan is the CEO of the Disability federation of Ireland.

About the author:

John Dolan

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