Thursday, 3 December 2020

Questions (5)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

5. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will report on the proposed introduction of a cost of disability payment; the studies undertaken in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39844/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities. When Covid hit earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of people were temporarily out of work and were provided with the pandemic unemployment payment of €350 per week. It was the first time that the Government kind of admitted that people cannot really live on €203 per week. Shockingly, the maximum rate for disability allowance is €203. For a number of years, advocacy groups for persons with disabilities have been telling us about the extra cost associated with having a disability. They have called for a €20 cost of disability payment to be provided. When might this be introduced?

In budget 2019, it was announced that research would be commissioned into the cost of disability as a first step in reaching an in-depth understanding of this complex issue. While the issue has been considered before by Departments, and research has been undertaken in the past on the cost of disability in Ireland, many of the conceptual issues remain unresolved and the empirical analysis is based on data from the 1990s. It is hoped that this current research, when complete, will inform policy direction in relation to the provision of adequate supports to meet the needs of people with disabilities from a whole-of-government perspective.

My Department commissioned Indecon International Consultants to carry out this research and work is currently under way. The research is looking at three main items. It examines the conceptual underpinnings of a cost of disability. It analyses what a reasonable estimate of a cost of disability in varying circumstances would be for people living in Ireland. It examines the implications for public policy and service delivery. The research will provide quantitative estimates of the cost of disability using a number of approaches, including consultation with stakeholders, an international review, and data analysis of the household budget survey and the survey on income and living conditions. Additionally, a survey of 33,000 people with disabilities closed in November and results are now being collated. This is important work which I understand is progressing well and I look forward to receiving the completed report very shortly. The total cost of the report is some €300,000.

In the spirit of "Nothing about us without us", last Friday, I released a survey called It's Your Day, Your Say, to ask persons with disabilities what they would like to say to Ministers. As one can imagine, there were some heartbreaking and awe-inspiring responses. One young woman wrote to me about the disability allowance of €203 a week and how insufficient it is. Another respondent asked how public and private employers are measured on their employment of those with disability issues. Another person said to please let them get jobs and proper education. A further respondent said that a person with a chronic illness will lose his or her medical card if he or she chooses to take a full-time job. This means that it is often too much of a risk for that person to work in case his or her health deteriorates and he or she cannot afford the necessary treatments. These comments raise important and pertinent points regarding opportunities to work and study, and parallel issues regarding transport and infrastructure. Will the report address these issues and will that be included in the report?

The Indecon report will look at all the issues that have been raised and I hope and expect that it will address them. My Department is doing much to help people with disabilities. This year alone, we spent more than €4.7 billion across various payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension, carer's allowance, partial capacity benefit and blind pension, and that is to name but a few. We are supporting more and more people through these schemes. In 2010, there were 101,000 people on disability allowance. Today, there are almost 147,000 people. That is nearly a 50% increase in the number of people receiving disability allowance since 2010. We expect to spend €1.8 billion on disability allowance this year alone. That will give the Deputy some idea of the Government's commitment to support people with disabilities. It is a similar story when one looks at the number of people receiving carer's allowance. In 2010, 50,000 people were receiving it and now 84,000 people receive it.

There is no doubt that the number of people in receipt of these payments has increased but that is because the number of people with disabilities has unfortunately increased. In 2018, the at risk of poverty rate for people with disabilities in Ireland was nearly 10% higher than the European average of 36.9%. Some 46.9%, almost half, of people on disability allowance were at risk of poverty in Ireland. That is a shocking figure. This compares with 14% of the general population. In 2018, the at risk of poverty rate of people not at work due to disability or illness was almost 48% and Covid will no doubt have a devastating impact on that. Why are the most vulnerable left at the margins? There is an opportunity to bring in the €20 per week cost of disability payment. It is a small amount but would make a significant difference to those people and show them that they are actually valued by our State, which is important. When does the Minister expect the report to be published and when will it be acted on?

As I said, Indecon is working on the report at the minute and I expect it to come to me shortly. We will have to look at the report and we will act on the recommendations in it. The priority and the focus of the Department of Social Protection is to ensure that there is an income safety net for people so that they do not fall below the income safety net. As I said to Deputy Lowry on the issue of the grant, the Department of Health and the HSE also have a significant role to play.

I know from my engagement with the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, that she is fully committed to helping and supporting people and she is doing a great deal of work in her own Department to improve the outcomes and the conditions for people living with disabilities, and she is very passionate about that.

The Deputy mentioned opportunities for people to get back to work. We have the employability service that helps people with disabilities to get into the workforce and we will continue to support that. We need to focus on that to ensure that people have that opportunity to get into the workplace.