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Three quarters of people with spinal injuries in Ireland are unemployed

Four in ten people with spinal cord injuries live at or below the poverty line.

THREE QUARTERS OF people with spinal cord injuries in Ireland are unemployed, a new report has found.

Over 76% of the 1600 people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) in Ireland are out of work, compared to 35% before injury.

The study, commissioned by Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII), also found that four in ten people with spinal cord injuries live at or below the poverty line.

Using the data from the research, SII has developed a four year strategy titled ‘Engage, Empower, Enhance’ to bring employment rates of people with SCI more in line with the European average of 51%.

Switzerland has an 80% employment rate among people with SCI.

Those interviewed for the research listed pain as the issue having the greatest impact on their quality of life, followed by personal care, spasms, and isolation.

Four in ten respondents said that they relied on family members as their main support, this figure increased to 53% for those over the age of 55.

Some 35% said they believed hospital staff and GPs were “not knowledgeable about SCI”.

Of the 1,600 people with SCI in Ireland 73% are male and 27% female. Three quarters are wheelchair users.

‘Unique insight’

Evaluation Psychologist Dr Katrina Collins, author of the report, said that it is “the first large scale study of its kind in Ireland offering a unique insight into the multitudinous aspects of living with a SCI”.

Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor welcomed SII’s plans to provide additional support to those with SCI who wish to return to work, as well as providing opportunities for participation in sporting, recreational and social activities.

“Spinal Injuries Ireland provides these services at the National Rehabilitation Hospital to allow new injuries begin their road to rehabilitation and continues these services when a patient leaves the NRH by providing one to one support visits in the home,” O’Connor said.

Family members

A second report, focusing on family members of people with SCI, found that many had given up work to become a full-time carer. Half of those interviewed said that they were “not really or not at all confident to support family member with injury”.

James McCarthy, SII’s Chairman, said that the organisation is going to increase its services to family members but needs funding to do so.

“Based on the research we intend to implement a very ambitious plan which we believe will reduce pressure on social welfare support in the long term.

The services we offer at present are not provided by the State and we rely heavily on fundraising but in order to allow people in Ireland with SCI live with dignity more sustainable financial support is required.

“This is a case of human rights and it is the right of people with SCI to work and participate in community life.”

SII needs €730.000 to provide its services annually – 44% is covered by the HSE and Department of Social Protection while the remaining 66% (approximately €400,000) is fundraised.

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Órla Ryan

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