People with disabilities represent a diverse group with differing needs. Disability can have different consequences for individuals depending on the nature of the disability, the person's age, social circumstances and so forth. The additional costs associated with disability are not incurred to the same degree by all people with disabilities and I do not consider that increasing the level of income maintenance payments, such as disability allowance, is necessarily the most appropriate method of addressing the additional costs of disability.
Additional costs associated with disability can arise regardless of whether a person is in employment or claiming a social welfare payment. Indeed, these costs can be greater where the person is working. If support towards the additional costs of disability were to be incorporated into payments such as the disability allowance, this support would be withdrawn on taking up employment, thereby creating a significant disincentive to move from welfare dependency into work. For these reasons, the costs of disability might best be met in ways that are less dependent on the person's labour force status, if people with disabilities are to be given the opportunity to participate in the workforce. This approach is in line with the views of the commission on the status of people with disabilities, which recommended that the additional costs of disability should be met separately from income maintenance needs.
The complex issues involved in addressing how best to meet the additional costs of disability are currently being examined by a working group on the feasibility of a cost of disability payment, which comprises representatives of relevant Departments and agencies, including my Department. The outcome of this group will be important in informing future policy in this area.
The rate of disability allowance has been increased by €10 to €134.80 per week from the beginning of this year. Since 1997, social welfare payments have been increased substantially in real terms. During that period the rate of disability allowance has increased by 57% compared with an increase of 28% in the cost of living — a real increase of 23%. Following a review of the national anti-poverty strategy, the Government set a target of achieving by 2007 a rate of €150 per week, in 2002 terms, for the lowest rates of social welfare payments. The achievement of this target will significantly increase the value of payments to persons on low incomes and at risk of poverty, including those on disability allowance.