Major reports published on Disability Allowance and Domiciliary Care Allowance
Two reports on Disability Allowance (DA) and Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) were commissioned following plans announced in the December 2011 Budget, which included proposed cuts to DA for young adults aged 18-24, and raising the qualifying age for DA from 16 to 18. Both proposals were paused pending reviews.
The Review Group entitled Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare Second Report: Review of Budget 2012 Proposals regarding Disability Allowance and Domiciliary Care Allowance was chaired by Ita Mangan, and the report was finalised in October 2012. The Domiciliary Care Allowance Review, chaired by Sylda Langford, was completed in December 2012. Both reports were published in April.
The proposals regarding cutting DA for those under 25 would have meant that new claimants of Disability Allowance aged 18 to 21 would have their payment reduced from €188 per week to €100, and to €144 per week for people aged 22 to 24.
Government said this change would bring Disability Allowance in line with Jobseekers Allowance. However, the Review Group said that more evidence is needed before this change could be brought in, including research on the supports and services needed to access education, training and employment.
Also proposed by government was a rise in the qualifying age for DA from 16 to 18, while also raising the qualifying age for Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) from 16 to 18. This would mean that instead of DA, people with a disability aged 16-18 would get DCA, resulting in a financial deficit of €523.07 a month. The Review Group said there is a strong rationale for raising the age threshold of DCA to 18.
The Domiciliary Care Allowance Review was established in response to a number of issues raised about the current application process for DCA and the accompanying review. Among its recommendations were that qualification for DCA should continue to be contingent on a child requiring a high level of additional care and that DCA should be payable up to age 18, with the starting age for DA to be increased to age 18. It says the most compelling reason for stopping the disability allowance for 17 and 18-year-old is ‘strong evidence that [the current situation] can encourage early school-leaving and generate welfare dependency.’ However, many of the submissions put forward to the review groups during the consultation phase argued that the current social welfare system fails to take into account the extra expenses associated with disabilities.
Standards for disability services launched
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published the National Standards for Residential Services for Children and Adults with Disabilities in May. Inclusion Ireland welcomed the launch—it has advocated for statutory standards and independent inspections of disability services for nearly twenty years. However, Inclusion Ireland said regulations are essential before independent inspections can start because while the standards themselves are not binding or enforceable; it is only regulations that are enforceable, and services must meet the regulations in order to be designated a registered service.
The HIQA standards published in May are the third set of standards for disability services published in the last ten years. Previous sets of standards for disability services were published by the National Disability Authority in 2003 and by HIQA in 2009. However, neither sets of standards resulted in inspections of disability services, because regulations were not published.
However, speaking at the launch in May, the Minister with responsibility for Disability, Kathleen Lynch TD, said regulations will be published shortly and registration of disability services will begin in September 2013. A commitment to ensure that HIQA would start independent inspections of disabilities services was promised in the 2011 Programme for Government.
In welcoming the publication of the HIQA standards, Inclusion Ireland said it is also very important that people using services and their families are aware of what they can expect from their services when inspections start: ‘Information must be provided in an accessible format on the quality of service they can expect to receive, and on how they can complain if they are unhappy,’ said Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly. He added that people living in services must have information on where they can turn when standards are not met.
First major report on Special Education in 20 years
The National Council for Special Education has published the first major report on special education since the 1993 Report of the Special Education Review Committee (SERC). The NCSE presented the Report to Education Minister Ruairí Quinn in May. The NCSE says the Report shows that investment in special educational supports is at an all-time high, but advises that changes to educational policy can deliver better outcomes.
As part of a year-long review, the NCSE consulted with a number of stakeholders including students, parents, schools, teachers, principals, HSE professionals and advocacy groups. The final report contains 28 recommendations on how best to support students with special educational needs in schools in the future. One of its key recommendations is to ensure that all children with special educational needs can fully access the extensive supports available within the school system. It also recognises the importance of the Education for Person with Special Educational Needs Act (2004), which is not yet fully commenced. Although the Review calls for it to be fully enacted as soon as resources permit, the NCSE ‘recognises that in the current economic climate resources are not available to permit this.’
The Department of Education and Skills spend €1.3 billion annually on supporting students with special educational needs in schools, in comparison to €468 million in 2004. The Review calls for the development of a new model for the allocation of additional teaching resources to mainstream schools, one based on the need of each school, without the need for a diagnosis of disability. This is in response to findings that some parents and schools find it difficult to access a diagnosis of disability which is required in order to access additional teaching support for students with more complex disabilities.
The NCSE also raised problems with enrolment procedures of some schools and recommended the introduction of a robust regulatory enrolment framework to ensure that every child with special educational needs can access a school placement.
The NCSE stressed that proposed changes would be recommended regardless of the economic climate and that they are aware that possible changes do cause anxiety for parents who fear resources will be taken away. NCSE CEO Teresa Griffins said, ‘our advice focuses on the supports students require in schools and their needs are at the centre of all proposals and recommendations.’
On receiving the Review, Minister Quinn said that the Department would review its recommendations, and that the NCSE was given the go-ahead to immediately set up a working group to look at a new resource allocation model. Inclusion Ireland welcomed the announcements, but said a timeframe must be put in place for both of them. (The full policy advice paper Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools is available for download at www.ncse.ie.)
Delays in assessment of need process
A recent HSE report showed 763 children had still not received an assessment of needs, despite waiting six months or more. The right to an assessment of need for children and adults with disabilities was contained in the 2005 Disability Act, but so far this right has only been drawn down for children aged under 6. Under the Act, children are entitled to have their needs assessed within six months. The quarterly report from the HSE showed 65 per cent were waiting nine months or more.
The Report also showed that there was major geographical variation in assessment waiting times. Most of the delayed assessments were in the Dublin west area, but there were several areas, such as Dublin southeast, where all assessments were carried out within legal time limits.
The HSE said that implementing the ‘Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People’ programme would improve the situation, because it would provide a single, clear pathway to services for all children with disabilities and closer links between health and education services. It said a detailed action plan in this regard was being implemented. ‘It is expected that this reconfiguration of services will have a significant impact on our ability to meet the needs of children and young people in a more efficient, effective and equitable manner and, in particular, on our ability to comply with the statutory time frames set out in the Disability Act and the accompanying regulations,’ the HSE statement said.