27 Jul 2018, 12.01

Ireland requires a root-and-branch reform of how state agencies support people with disabilities as they progress from school and training courses into employment, according to a new report by three combined Oireachtas Committees.

The report, Review of Supports Available to People With Disabilities Transitioning From Education or Training Into Employment, documents and challenges the often disjointed approach experienced by people with disabilities as they attempt to take fundamental steps forward in their lives.

Critically, the report finds, the system is rife with disincentives for people requiring special assistance to seek work at all, given that “success” in the jobs market often means the loss or reduction of essential state-provided supports.

The report _ published Friday by the Joint Committees on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Skills, and Health _ proposes wide-ranging reforms of policies and practices across several government departments and state agencies. It recommends:

  • The qualifying criteria and cut-off points for means-tested supports should be applied consistently. Some essential supports, such as hearing aids, are provided only to medical card holders, not to PRSI contributors. Such inconsistencies in eligibility for state-aided assistance should be eliminated. 
  • The government should establish a commission to investigate and document the true additional cost of living with a disability in Ireland. Evidence provided to the Committees suggests this average cost exceeds €200 weekly, excluding hourly fees charged by personal assistants. 
  • Replacement travel supports should be provided to those denied assistance from two discontinued schemes: Motorised Transport Grant and Mobility Allowance. The government should prioritise passage of the Health (Transport Support) Bill to address this problem. 
  • People with disabilities should not be precluded from retaining a medical card and travel pass if they enter full-time employment. The current system disincentives jobseekers with disabilities, because they lose medical card coverage once they gain a full-time income. The current means-tested system does not recognise the extra costs of transport, personal assistance and medical appointments associated with managing disabilities alongside full-time work. 
  • The National Council for Special Education should be empowered to help schools, particularly at secondary level, create spaces for children with autism. 
  • Special schools for people with disabilities should offer the Leaving Certificate and career guidance as options. 
  • Children transitioning from primary to secondary schools should not lose state-funded special needs assistance (SNA), often the current practice. 
  • People requiring SNA should have their hours of weekly support reviewed regularly, because in the existing system, many people have no easy route of appeal if awarded too few hours of assistance for their needs. 
  • The Department of Education and Skills practice of removing SNA support from people once they complete third-level education harms people’s ability to transition into professional training or employment. The Committee endorses the joint proposal of the Disability Federation for Ireland and Enable Ireland to create a “lifelong assistive technology programme” to eliminate gaps in support. 
  • HSE guidance officers need to offer school-leavers with disabilities the same degree of flexibility and options provided to other school-leavers. Currently, HSE guidance officers provide only one option to people with disabilities: HSE-funded day services, not help in transitioning into a university, training course or job. 
  • EmployAbility, the state agency tasked with helping people with disabilities to find paid jobs, should help those who need on-the-job training or support from a personal assistant, not only candidates deemed “job ready." 

Read the full report here.

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Solidarity - People Before Profit

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