That Seanad Éireann:
- that the need for appropriate housing for persons with disabilities, as already recognised by the State is still outstanding:
noting, in particular:
- that the number of people with disabilities on the waiting list for social housing increased substantially to just under 4,000 in 2013;
- that there are significant numbers of persons with disabilities residing in nursing homes or similar residential facilities, many of whom are still young people, who could be appropriately living in the community and are not on the housing list, nor part of the congregated settings initiative;
- that 2,725 people are still living in "congregated settings";
- the progress made under the national housing strategy for people with a disability, 2011 to 2016, and its associated implementation plan, in particular, the cross-departmental and multi-stakeholder approach taken by the national advisory group to the strategy and noting the recently established housing and disability steering groups within all local authorities; and
having regard to:
- Article 19(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states that "Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement";
- the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government related to housing for persons with disabilities including housing adaptation grants scheme, congregated settings and the inclusion of disability in all housing policy;
- action to immediately reduce unmet housing needs with the intention that Ireland will have suitable housing provision for persons with disabilities in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, commitments;
- the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to:
- confirm that the Government's action plan for housing includes specific commitments on the delivery of housing in sufficient numbers and type to also meet the housing needs of persons with disabilities;
- ensure the provision of an annual update from local authorities of the number of social housing units allocated to people with disabilities on the housing waiting list;
- ensure that any housing project supported by public funding, including Part V housing, provide a percentage of pre-planned and reserved housing units to meet local needs for persons with disabilities;
- ensure that the social housing 2020 strategy is routinely disability proofed;
- provide funding in 2017 to increase housing supply and to make necessary and timely adaptations to current housing stock;
- requests that the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government draft a work programme which will routinely consider and review Government progress towards delivering adequate and sustainable housing for persons with disabilities.
I welcome the Minister to participate in the debate. There were a number of motions I could have tabled in respect of disability, but I choose this one. People have said there are other areas of greater need such as unemployment which is a massive issue, as are health and social provision. There are also issues with income and poverty experienced by people with disabilities. Why put the focus on housing at this time? There is constant talk from Government on what I would describe as the housing crisis, underscored by references to a dedicated ministry for housing, the Minister's own Department, the cross-party committee and its recent report, all of which emphasise that this is the priority for the Government.
For the avoidance of doubt, the current recession-rent housing crisis requires urgent attention and action. I understand and support that, as do people with disabilities. I, too, see children coming and going from hotels. That is heartbreaking and has to be dealt with. I am happy to say there is strong interest in the issue of housing for people with disabilities. Many Members come from disability backgrounds such as the deaf community, blind, mental health and neurological, physical and intellectual disabilities. Housing is a big issue right across the disability and mental health area.
What is unacceptable is the implicit acceptance that it is the only housing crisis in Ireland. We have a new housing crisis which is rightly attracting necessary attention. I am here to give voice to and garner support and action for the long-running housing crisis in Ireland, a housing crisis that has deep roots in the culture of exclusion and lack of expectation. I am here to give the Minister the opportunity to set out publicly what is being done to resolve this historic crisis in parallel with the other crisis that has to be dealt with. The current crisis is based on the rightful notion that people have an obvious need for a house to live in, otherwise expressed as a right to housing.
The journey begins in a very different place for people with disabilities, that place being institutional and separate settings. Ireland still has almost 3,000 people living in congregated settings and many others, unnecessarily, living in nursing homes. There is a deep-seated culture that it is acceptable that disabled people would live in an institution without giving their consent and with others with whom they have not chosen to live. It has been said one cannot choose the people one works with but one can choose one's friends. Many people with disabilities still do not have the assurance that they can choose the people with whom to live or that their house will support them to live with ease and comfort with their loved ones.
I will refer to people trying to continue living in the community. We are often reminded that the policy is to keep people living and participating in the community. We must not forget that it has always been the determined will and resolve of people with disabilities to make the case, always against the odds, to have their space in society, to win that space and to try and hold on to it. It has not been easy to do that in the past few years. They fought and struggled for inclusion to drive a regular car, attend regular school, go to the same workplace as others, to get on the same bus and train; in other words to be able to live independently. When the disabled person's grant was introduced in 1992 that, too, was fought for by people with disabilities.
In 1980 the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in report No. 50, stated the existing grant was totally out of line with building costs and should be reviewed annually or automatically linked to building costs. It went on to state the housing adaptation scheme, progressive as it was at the conception stage, suffered from difficulties with implementation. It named three of these areas: differing interpretations; geographical location; and the many delays not linked with the costs of adapting houses. It concluded that an effective housing policy must involve three elements: a satisfactory adaptation scheme; provision within the building programme; and housing with support services where needed. At the time, more than 30 years ago, shortcomings were identified. This was a first strong effort at retrofitting, a scheme to ensure people could stay living in the community.
In 2004 the NESC returned to that subject in its Housing in Ireland Performance and Policy report No. 112. In respect of housing issues for people with disabilities, it quoted from a Disability Federation of Ireland document which stated changes to the disabled person's housing grant, including the introduction of means testing and the reduction of individual amounts payable had led to increased vulnerability for disabled persons, often at crisis points, including over-long stays in hospitals and inadequate standards of housing and a limited range of housing options.
During 2004, at the height of the Celtic tiger, a NESC document pointed out that there were risks. In 2006 the NDA published a review of the disabled person's grant scheme, which stated: "It ... documents the variety of eligibility criteria, assessment procedures and application processes which have been developed across local authorities and which have created anomalies and inequalities in the provision of the grant". It also set out difficulties with the operation of the grant such as delays in occupational therapy assessments and inadequate grant levels. Sadly, it must now be said that a scheme first introduced in 1972 is still underfunded and under-ambitious, leaving so many people and families without access to the most basic of rights, which is a functioning and comfortable home.
We see on an annual basis the routine closing down of the application process for the housing adaptation scheme across local authorities. If we were in the work arena, it would now be enshrined as "custom and practice". That is what it has become. This is something that routinely happens every spring to summer and so the conversation for every new applicant commences with, "We have run out of money. Come back again." How obscene and wrong it is to present people in dire and immediate need of something so basic with that routine notion and a stop-start implementation, administration and funding process? How is it okay to send people away not once or twice because there was a crisis, but every year? It is the custom and practice regarding how this programme operates.
I met many city and county councillors during the Seanad election campaign and was so impressed with the commitment and resolve of many of them in respect of the housing and other needs of people with disabilities, yet they are also frustrated that they cannot support people who are often their neighbours to get the necessary housing adaptations in a timely fashion and that others cannot move into a house in order that they can progress as adults and get on with their lives. Councillors spend so much time keeping faith with people in the slim hope that there will be a good result, but never a timely one. So many family members and people across the disability and housing sectors put in much time and effort, as do public officials, but it is such a poor and frustrating use of time. The phrase "get on with your life" is certainly a cliché, but it is well packed with the essence of what a house can do for somebody. It is the keystone of the possibility of getting on with one's life and having the opportunity to strike out as a person in one's own right with whomever one wishes to live. We all instinctively know this, yet almost 50 years on from Ireland's first response to the housing needs of people with disabilities, we are no way near providing the housing response required.
To put it very directly to the Minister, this is as much a housing crisis as the awful current crisis and we must bring the same resolve and response to solving it. That is the only commitment that is acceptable. I know that people with disabilities are confounded by the notion that there is only one housing crisis in Ireland because that is all they hear about in the public space. All those waiting for and needing home adaptations - the 4,000 people waiting for social housing and the almost 3,000 people who are still in institutions, with their families and carers - cannot accept the dominant notion that there is only one housing crisis in Ireland for one group of people and I hope we can deal with that notion. There is no doubt that that is totally unacceptable also. People with disabilities and their families see themselves airbrushed out of consideration. It is not too strong to say they are being pushed aside as the political oxygen only seems to permeate the recent crisis. The message being picked up by people with disabilities and their organisations is, "We are used to waiting so we can wait longer." This waiting cannot go on any longer. There must be a strong start that people can see resulting in new housing provision and stepped-up output on housing adaptations in the year ahead. This urgently requires funding.
A Programme for a Partnership Government states the needs of people with disabilities will be incorporated into all future housing policies and acknowledges that by 2021 there will still be 1,817 people in congregated settings. If the speed of dealing with this issue remains the same, it will take another decade. These are not statements of resolve and statements to challenge civil servants. We need to see the targets. There are some in respect of congregated settings. Processes are in place and I have acknowledged them in the motion; therefore, there is something very strong on which to build. We now need strong and definite targets and outcomes. I am saying clearly that this issue needs to be resolved in the next three years.