Column I cried when I heard about the mobility allowance cut - I can't take any more

The mobility grant gave me and my husband the chance to lead independent lives, with dignity, writes Miriam Murphy, who says this government are chipping away at the help for people with disabilities.

I AM SO angry about all the cuts that the Government have imposed on people in the last two years. But the real fact is that the hard-working people, carers, families, service providers, the youth, house owners, workers, the elderly who built this country to what we have now, are the people that are keeping community life going in every town and village in Ireland.

But I want to describe the real effects that the major cuts are having on people with disabilities in their daily lives. I will tell what I know and how it effects me, personally. Other people will have their own feelings and stories to tell.

Enda’s broken promises

What amazes me is Enda Kenny spoke face-to-face to a Cork girl, Joanne O’Riordan, who is a wheelchair user, and uses modern technology to live her life to the full. Joanne has no limbs. She met Enda while he was canvassing for the election two years ago and she asked him to promise their would be no more cuts to people with disabilities. He promised her in front of TV cameras, reporters and the people of Cork. He said there would be no more cuts. Obviously Enda was having a little day dream or a feel good factor on that day.

For me and my husband (a wheelchair user also) we have dealt with the cuts to the best of our ability. In the past year we’ve had to pay the ESB and telephone bills over three week period – we can not pay them in a lump sum. The ESB bill is around €170 too (as I am oxygen machine every night).

The telephone bill is approx €100, which I can not get rid of as my 80-year-old father rings me every night. I feel safe with the landline bedside my bed at night knowing I can’t run out of credit or the battery won’t run down. The land line for those with disabilities or most people who are living on their own is a necessity, it’s their security.

‘I cried as I felt I couldn’t take any more’

On the 26 February, the cuts to the Mobility Allowance and the Disabled Drivers Transport Grants were announced. I was enjoying a nice cuppa’ at the fire. I was half listening to the 9 o’clock news, I knew I had heard “DISABLED HIT AGAIN”. My husband came into the room and said I should listen. I can honestly say it was like someone had hit me in my stomach. I was shocked, mad, and a little unsure about what the broadcaster was actually telling us. We both just looked at each other. I cried as I felt I couldn’t take any more.

We are two of the lucky ones, as I work three days a week. But, at 50-years-old, I took out my first ever bank loan on the strength of my mobility grant and my husband applying for the Disabled Transport Grant. We are both wheelchair-users so my husband needed a van that he could drive. We eventually found one in England that was brought in for us. Disability comes with a high cost for accessible transport as it has to fit your individual needs.

We have to pay €350 a month back to the bank, (that was the lowest they could give us) over 5 years. Yes, it’s tough, but if I could explain to you just what it means to have accessible transport of our own, it still would not portray the happiness, the togetherness, joy it means to both of us. We go shopping on our own, we bring friends with us, we can go anywhere we want to without having to rely on other people. If there was no one around, we would be prisoners in our home.

We won our ‘lotto’ when we got our accessible transport. It also means I can attend meetings outside my town as I am very involved in my community.

Still waiting for a replacement scheme

The Department is taking the view that it was forced to take this action. The Department is not the victim here, the 4,700 people with disabilities and their families are the victims of what can accurately be described as an unprecedented and unannounced withdrawal of vital funding. This comes on top of the general attrition of the recession. I wait in haste to see in four month’s time what the Government will put in place of the Mobility and Disabled Drivers Grant.

This is not the only cut we have experienced over the Government’s two years. There’s been cuts in Respite Care, cuts in SNAs in schools all around the country, cuts in Health Board with aids and appliances including a long waiting list for ordering basic wheelchairs and housing grants. All of the above cuts have left people with disabilities tired and they can not fight much more for their rights. They have rallied to the Dáil on many of these issues in the past two years – but has anyone listened?

I am an activist and I won’t give up the fight for others or myself. We will not be going back to where we were 20 or 30 years ago, we can’t.
Let’s change the attitudes of our leaders. Let’s give people with disabilities the right to live their lives with dignity and with a voice.

Miriam Murphy is an independent town councillor in Arklow, Co Wicklow. Elected in June 2009 – her first time entering the race in local politics she was also elected mayor of Arklow town in 2010. She is a lobbyist and activist and also has a physical disability having used a wheelchair all her life.

The review of the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant Schemes is currently underway. As part of the review, a public consultation is taking place. Details of how to participate in the process can be found on the Department of Health’s Website. Submissions can be made on the form provided on or before 5pm on Wednesday 17 April 2013.

Read: ‘Every other option was illegal’ – Minister defends disability payments cut>

Column: Being known as ‘Miriam in the wheelchair’ still annoys me>

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