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Reinstate mobility grants for disabled

By Rachel Mullen

Living with a disability costs more than you’d think. There are the human costs of living in a society that disables at every turn. There are significant financial costs. They have been estimated at €207 a week for the average disabled household by Dr John Cullinan of NUI Galway. This is equivalent to 35% of the household’s disposable income.

The Department of Health and Children axed the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant for people with disabilities in 2013. This was because criteria governing the schemes were in breach of the Equal Status Act. They did not have to eliminate the scheme but, we were promised, the issues would be resolved quickly. Two years later, some people with disabilities remain on the scheme, despite its having been found to be discriminatory, and no new scheme has been provided for the many others now precluded.

Transport is vital for people with disabilities to get education, employment and local services, and to participate in their communities. A recent report from the Centre for Independent Living highlighted that the cost of buying and running a car was prohibitive for many people with a disability. The cost of insurance was greater, or in some cases not possible. In one testimony a man was told by an insurance company that he was “uninsurable”. In another a man needed €70 to pay for a round trip by taxi to visit his GP as there were no accessible alternatives in his area. The situation is particularly acute in rural areas, where there is a dearth of accessible adequate public transport.

The Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant were essential in this regard. They ensure that people do not become trapped in their own homes. These schemes were axed on foot of a case heard in 2008 by the Equality Tribunal and a second case dealt with by the Ombudsman in 2011. The two schemes were found to be in breach of the Equal Status Act 2000 on the ground of age.

The criterion was that new applicants for the schemes had to be under the age of sixty-six. Claimants already on the schemes were allowed to continue to receive the payment after they reached the age of sixty-six, provided they continued to satisfy the means test. The Ombudsman’s report noted that the criteria imposed by the Department of Health and Children for applicants seeking the Mobility Allowance, also gave no consideration to the fact that people with intellectual disabilities and/or mental ill health could have restricted mobility as much as people with physical disabilities.

The Department could have simply dropped the age restriction. Instead they chose to eradicate the schemes. That was in February 2013. The Department said it had begun a review process on the schemes and, pending its recommendations, the schemes were no longer available. Claimants in receipt of the Mobility Allowance at that time were allowed to remain on the scheme, supposedly temporarily.

In June 2013, the review group issued an interim report stating that new statutory provisions would be established and that an inter-departmental group, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, would be developing these proposals, including the eligibility criteria. This inter-departmental group would, we were informed, report back by October 2013.

Four years since the decision of the Ombudsman and seven years since the decision of the Equality Tribunal this issue has not been resolved. The inter-departmental review process has delivered no decision on the way forward. In the meantime, people who need to access this payment are left trapped and ignored.

Last month the media reported an incident on the Sligo to Dublin train. Gerard Gallagher was left stranded on the train when no staff came to assist him to remove his mobility scooter which was in another part of the train. He was eventually found when a cleaner heard him shouting for help. Gerard said; “the power to the train was turned off and I was left in complete darkness…..the doors closed around me…I had no way of contacting anyone. I was completely alone and no one knew where I was”.

His words are eerily metaphorical: the isolation being enforced on some disabled people who need this Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant. The Minister should do the right thing and ensure people like Gerard are not left isolated in darkness. •