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A stupid, mean cut

Paying people with disabilities to fund their own transport choices was good value and dignified – Suzy Byrne 

 

The recent announcement that the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant schemes were to cease has caused huge anger and concern. The Office of the Ombudsman had highlighted discrimination in the operation of the schemes because they were only available to people with certain disabilities and to those under 65 years of age.

Department of Health and Children officials have indicated that the schemes, which cost €10.3 million annually, would rise to between €170 and €300 million annually if they were expanded to these wider groups. These amounts are disputed by organisations, experts and members of all political parties on the basis of the strictness of the  criteria that need to be met to avail of the schemes.

A return to  restrictive institutionalised ‘ambulance’-type services insults the self-determination and independence of people with disabilities

After Christmas, Minister for Health and Children, James Reilly, and Minister for State, Kathleen Lynch, when pressed by the Oireachtas Public Oversight Committee, had both acknowledged that the schemes were flawed and in contravention of the Equal Status Act. They stated that something needed to be done but did not indicate the schemes would end. Three weeks later the schemes were ended, to the consternation of the Oireachtas Committee and the Ombudsman.

A review group has been established with no indication as to how people currently in receipt of payments are to be supported once the payments end on June 26th. Ten years after the first alert that the schemes were flawed, the Government has taken action without consulting those who benefit from the schemes. This has resulted in a decision that is unfair both to those benefitting from the schemes and to those who are excluded from applying for them.

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The people most affected by the decision to end the schemes are those living in rural areas with no other transport options, those who are not able to use buses and trains safely, and those who have no assistants available to accompany them. The payments were made to those with the most significant disabilities who had no other means to provide for transport and who could not use public transport.

Many people who live in residential settings also have very limited means after they pay for their services. The schemes provided them with the chance to leave their institutions and to engage in social and community life.  The withdrawal of these payments represents a cut of up to 20% in the income of recipients.

The schemes were some of the few supports that recognised the cost of disability. They enabled people who would otherwise not be able to travel to appointments and other commitments to pay for private transport or fund the costs of accessible vans.

The Programme for Government promised the introduction of ‘Personal Budgets’ for therapeutic and accommodation supports for people with disabilities. The decision to end the schemes contravenes this stated Government intention to place persons with a disability at the centre of decision-making about themselves. There has been no consultation, and no White Paper from the Department of Health and Children.

The Department of Health and Children has indicated that it intends to move the funds from the schemes into the provision of transport services which pick up and drop off people with disabilities, as and when they can. A return to restrictive, institutionalised ‘ambulance’-type services insults the self-determination and independence of people with disabilities.

This decision to end these schemes, under the false guise of achieving equality, will make things much worse for the small numbers involved. A payment to enable people to provide for and choose their own transport needs was a modern and cost-effective policy.  This is the message that those who benefited from the schemes wish to communicate loudly and clearly to the group now charged with reviewing the schemes and proposing new responses. That is, if they ever get around to consulting before the payments end.