Yesterday’s budget has had an obvious impact on people with disabilities by reducing disability-specific payments, such as the disability allowance and disablement pension; however, some indirect cuts, particularly in transport and education could well have a disproportionate effect on the rights of people with disabilities.
First, the direct cuts should be addressed. The reduction of the disability allowance from €204.30 to €196 and of the disablement pension from €235.40 to €226 may not seem unduly drastic; but given the additional cost of disability, these are sufficiently serious to warrant attention. These cuts run contrary to the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), particularly with regard to the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection in Article 28.
The carer’s allowance has also dropped from €220.50 to €212 and carer’s benefit has been reduced from €220.50 to €212. These measures have a significant impact on the ability of family members to provide support to relatives with disabilities. Such cuts compound the government’s failure to publish the National Carers Strategy earlier this year and demonstrate a lack of commitment to the work of carers, contrary to the core principles of the social partnership agreement: Towards 2016. The budgets cuts across the entire social welfare sector will also impact particularly negatively on people with disabilities who are unemployed or depend primarily on social welfare payments for survival.
Second, the indirect cuts made to a range of public services have serious consequences for people with disabilities in their daily lives. For example, the reduction in the amount of student support grants and changes in teacher support services may prevent people with disabilities from continuing in the education system, particularly if the system itself is not inclusive of their needs. This is of particular concern given the failure to implement the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, and these cuts therefore signify a regression in state support for inclusive education, contrary to the spirit of Article 24 of the CRPD. Some attempt to address this has been made by the budgetary commitment to provide an additional 28 National Educational Psychologist Service (NEPS) psychologists; however, any assessments provided by NEPS will be of limited use without the necessary teacher support services to implement them.
In the area of transport, the €27 million reduction in the State subvention provided to CIE will also have a knock-on effect on efforts to make public transport more accessible for people with disabilities, a legal requirement under the Disability Act 2005, and a key commitment in the Department of Transport’s Sectoral Plan under that Act. A lack of accessible public transport has been highlighted by the Equality Authority as a major barrier for people with disabilities in accessing employment; and this further reduces the potential for many people with disabilities to participate in the labour market. Again, these cuts conflict with the purpose of the CRPD, particularly with Articles 9 and 27.
However, Budget 2010 has made some positive efforts to uphold the rights of people with disabilities. The most pertinent of these is the Minister for Finance’s commitment to introduce a multi-annual investment programme for a number of important projects required under the government’s mental health strategy: A Vision for Change. These projects will be funded from the sale of HSE assets and an additional 43 million has been allocated for this purpose in 2010. This is a significant step in implementing mental health policy and is in accordance with the general principles of the CRPD. However, the funds allocated will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that the problems identified by the Disability Federation of Ireland in distributing the Multi Annual Investment Fund for disability services 2006-2009 can be avoided.
Finally, the commitment to increase the funding of the National Disability Authority by 23% is a welcome addition to Budget 2010; and redresses the cut in funding to the NDA in the previous year’s budget. However, these advances, although important, may not be sufficient to overcome the disadvantages imposed by the broad cuts in social welfare payments and reduction in public services used by people with disabilities on a daily basis. Further scrutiny on the application of these funding cuts will be required to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities continue to be promoted and protected.
This blog post is also available at http://disabilitylawnews.blogspot.com/.