Budget 2018 offers mixed bag for persons with disabilities
Budget 2018, announced by Minster for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Pascal Donohue, on October 10th, offers a mixed bag for people and households with disabilities.
While some progress has been made on key areas such as funding the Decision Support Service and equality proofing of budgets, Budget 2018 does little to drive the much needed reform of disability services, or to deliver key measures to make positive change in lives of persons with disabilities.
Budget 2018 commitments in key governmental departments
Social protection and employment affairs
Budget 2018 provides a welcome increase of €5 per week on all social welfare payments. This modest increase will go some way towards addressing the high level of poverty among people with disabilities.
Disappointingly, no mention was made of resources to implement the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for Persons with Disabilities.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, is the failure once again to introduce the Personal Advocacy Service.
Inclusion Ireland welcomes the commitment to provide 1091 more Special Needs Assistants and 100 more Special Education teachers in 2018.
Budget 2018 also provides for 305 new posts to reduce the primary school staff to student ratio from 27:1 to 26:1. While this is welcome, it does not necessarily mean that no child will be in a class of over 30 pupils. Currently, 118,326 children are in supersized classes of more than 30 children.
Budget 2018 commits an additional €646m to the health budget, bringing the overall health budget to €15.3 bn. This includes an additional €75m for disability services, bringing the total allocation for disability services in 2018 to €1.763bn.
According to the Department of Health, pay increases under the Lansdowne Rd agreement will have to be met from this increase so it is unclear what additional services and supports might be provided in 2018.
The reduction in prescription charges for medical card holders from €2.50 to €2 per item and the reduction in the threshold for those accessing the Drug Payments Scheme from a maximum of €144 to €134 per month are welcome reductions and will mean that the cost of essential medicines are reduced.
Unfortunately, Budget 2018 provides little evidence that the government is taking seriously, its commitment to enable people with disabilities to live independent lives with no mention of personalised supports or personal budgets in yesterday’s announcements.
Justice and equality
Inclusion Ireland welcomes the commitment in Budget 2018 of €3 million for the establishment of the Decision Support Service. The establishment of the DSS is a key step in the implementation of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and to ensuring that individuals with disabilities have the support to exercise decision making and choice in their lives.
The decision to situate the DSS under the aegis of the Mental Health Commission while it is being established is preferable to the more adversarial courts system that had been proposed. However, moving forward, it is essential that the DSS should become an independent body in its own right. the DSS should stand alone in order to reflect the ‘disability neutral’ nature of the law.
Children and Youth Affairs
Budget 2018 provides an increase in funding to Tusla, the child and family agency, of over €40m. This represents an increase of 6% on Tusla’s current budget. While acknowledging that Tusla has experienced issues with underfunding, and an increase is therefore welcome, Inclusion Ireland is disappointed to note that bringing children with disabilities under the remit of Tusla has not been identified as one of the priorities for this increased spend.
Budget 2018 provides for additional budget to improve public transport. Announcing the budget yesterday, Minister Pascal Donohue stated the intention to “fundamentally transform our bus system so that journeys by bus will be fast, reliable, punctual, convenient and affordable”. Notably absent from this list of positive qualities is the need for public transport to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
Public Expenditure and Reform
The publication of an equality proofing policy paper as part of Budget 2018 represents a small but welcome progression towards full equality proofing of budgetary and policy decisions.
Inclusion Ireland looks forward to further progression on equality proofing as the Director of the Parliamentary Budget Office and her staff have an opportunity to commence their work.
The advancement towards equality proofing of budgets is most welcome, as is the allocation of funding to commence the work of the Decision Support Service. Both are key developments in upholding the rights of persons with disabilities and ensuring the promotion of equality.
However, notably absent are a number of key actions that could have been taken to deliver an equal and just society and ensure persons with disabilities have the opportunity to live and participate in the community.
- The failure of the Department of Health to ring-fence a portion of the health budget for individualised services or personal budgets. We will have to wait until the publication of the HSE Service Plan later this year to determine if any progress will be made on the provision of key supports to enable people with disabilities in live independent, supported lives in the community.
- The failure to commence the Education of Persons with Special Education Needs Act 2004, to fully commence the Disability Act 2005 or the Personal Advocacy Service, as provided for under the Citizens Information Act 2007.
The increase in social welfare payments, coupled with lower charges for medicines will have a modest but positive impact on the incomes of some persons with disabilities but falls short of what is required to address the real cost of disability.
Pre-Budget Submissions by Department
In the lead up to the announcement of Budget 2018, Inclusion Ireland made a number of submissions to Government departments to outline spending priorities: