BUDGET 2014: SOCIAL WELFARE RATES MAINTAINED
No changes to social welfare entitlements for people with a disability or carers were announced in Budget 2014. Budget 2014 was announced by Ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin on 15 October. In advance of the Budget, Inclusion Ireland made a strong case that people with a disability and their families have been hit hard with cuts from every government department in recent years, and called on the Taoiseach to ring-fence disability-related budgets, and start engagement on disability at senior ministerial level. Inclusion Ireland, together with Irish Autism Action and Down Syndrome Ireland, launched a new publication in advance of the Budget showing the statistics:
■ Almost 35,000 children are waiting for speech and language therapy;
■ Those on Disability Allowance have €847 a year less since 2008;
■ Only 5% of adults with an intellectual disability are in employment;
■ Resource teaching hours have been reduced by 15% since 2011.
Speaking at the publication launch, Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly said people with disabilities feel ‘increasingly disenfranchised by this government’, and that in addition to direct cuts to income and other supports, frontline staff in health services are not being replaced, and this is having a massive impact. The launch received press attention on RTÉ and in many newspapers, and a number of TDs and senators attended, in addition to people with a disability and their families who spoke about the impact of cuts on their lives. A copy of the document is available on www.inclusionireland.ie.
Key changes announced in Budget 2014 include the introduction of the free GP card for all children aged five and under (from mid-2014), and the axing of the telephone allowance. Prescription charges for medical card holders will increase from €1.50 to €2.50 per item, up to a maximum of €25 per family per month. There are no changes in the rates or criteria for the principal social welfare allowances, and the half-rate Carer’s Allowance is maintained. It was also announced that there will be an additional 1395 extra teachers and classroom resource teachers at primary and secondary level next year, in line with demographic changes.
INFORMATION SESSIONS ON NEW STANDARDS FOR DAY SERVICES
Information sessions on new standards for day services will be held in January 2014. The standards for day services will not be statutory, but instead aim to assist service providers when they are implementing recommendations from the New directions Report from the working group of the Adult Day Services Review. It recommends how supports should be provided to people using day services. New directions proposes that supports should be individualised and outcome-focused and should support adults to live the life of their choosing in accordance with their own wishes, needs and aspirations. The standards document will be available on the HSE website from early December. The HSE’s information sessions on the standards will be held on 14-15 January 2014. Details of the venues and times will be on the Inclusion Ireland website when they become available. Inclusion Ireland will also be holding focus groups with people with an intellectual disability and their families on the standards to help inform Inclusion Ireland’s submission on the standards.
NEW REPORT SAYS ALL TEACHERS SHOULD HAVE SPECIAL-NEEDS TRAINING
New research on teacher training recommends that all teachers be trained to work with children with special educational needs (SEN). The research, which was conducted on behalf of the National Parents and Siblings Alliance, shows that currently there are approximately 2300 teachers trained to work with pupils with special educational needs. However, this is just a small portion of the 12,000 primary school teachers and 8000 post-primary teachers who were trained in Ireland 2006 and 2012. In this period about 2000 teachers completed the postgraduate diploma in special educational needs, and almost 300 completed the masters of education in special educational needs. The research says there are approximately 125,000 pupils with special educational needs in primary schools, and 90,000 in post-primary. Of these, 17,512 children at primary level and 16,629 at post-primary were allocated additional teaching hours, with a further 3135 and 9881, respectively, who had special needs assistant support (figures were taken from the Special Education Administration System as of August 2010). According to the authors of the research, Brian Merriman and Aideen Rickard: ‘there is a dramatic discrepancy between the number of children who may have SEN and the level of additional support available.’ They say initial teacher education does not adequately prepare new teachers to work with pupils who need additional support, but ‘there is an expectation on the part of parents and children’ that teachers will be properly trained.
20% OF CHILDREN IN STATE CARE HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS
The Child Care Law Reporting Project has found that 20% of children taken into the care of the state have ‘special needs’. The Project, which is under the directorship of former Irish Times journalist Dr Carol Coulter, published its first interim report in early November. Detailed notes revealed the ‘special needs’ were almost always psychological or educational. Evidence given by psychologists and speech and language therapists show that neglect and abuse has severe adverse effects on children’s development, the report said. This, it added, can lead in some cases to the diagnosis of learning disabilities, psychological disorders and other behavioural problems. It also found that 12% of all child care proceedings involve children whose parents have a mental illness or intellectual difficulty. The report was launched by Chief Justice Mrs Susan Denham, and is the first from the project. It included analysis of data collected from 333 cases attended by the project’s team between December 2012 and July 2013. This represents about 10% of all cases during that period.
LAW REFORM COMMISSION SAYS SEXUAL OFFENCES LEGISLATION SHOULD BE REFORMED
The Law Reform Commission has recommended a number of changes to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, in its latest report Sexual offences and capacity to consent. The Commission says the current law both fails to respect the right to consenting sexual relationships, and falls short because it does not deal with all situations in which exploitation or abuse may arise. It says legislation should make it clear that no offence is involved where two people whose capacity to consent may be at issue, engage in a sexual act where no exploitation or abuse is involved. The report also calls for national standards to ensure a consistent approach to sex education, including the risks of exploitation or abuse. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the law on sexual offences.
INCLUSION IRELAND WELCOMES START OF REGULATIONS AND INSPECTION OF DISABILITY SERVICES
Inclusion Ireland has welcomed the long-awaited start of the regulation and inspection of residential services for children and adults with a disability, which came into force on 30 October 2013. CEO Paddy Connolly congratulated Minister of State with responsibility for Disability Kathleen Lynch and Health Minister James Reilly for fulfilling the commitment in the 2011 Programme for government to ensure that HIQA starts independent inspections of disability services: ‘Inclusion Ireland has been advocating for statutory standards and independent inspections of disability services for nearly twenty years. It is a credit to both Minister Lynch and Minister Reilly that the programme for government commitment is being realised.’
However Inclusion Ireland also called for HIQA to put in place a full information campaign so people living in disability services and their families are aware of what they can expect from the new inspection regime. Mr Connolly said, ‘HIQA must ensure that people living in services have information on where they can turn when standards are not met. It is important that people with a disability who live in services, and their families, know what the process is going forward. 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. This information campaign is vital in ensuring that people with disabilities feel they can go to HIQA when they have concerns or queries, and must be a priority going forward.’
BUDGET 2014 – INCLUSION IRELAND FACTSHEET
While changes were announced across a range of Government Departments, the HSE’s budget for 2014 has not been finalised. While some health measures were announced, full details of how the HSE will share its financial allocation between services will not be announced until the HSE produces its service plan. This is due to be published in early November 2013 (the HSE must give Health Minister James Reilly the service plan within 21 days of the Budget being published). When further information is available, Inclusion Ireland will publish details of the disability allocation on our website at www.inclusionireland.ie, and on our facebok and twitter pages.
The principal measures announced on Budget day are below.
The rollout of free GP care to children aged five and under. This was described by Government as an important step on the road to universal health insurance. The free care will be available from the middle of next year, as legislation will be required. It will benefit around 240,000 children and their families.
Prescription charges for medical card holders will increase from €1.50 to €2.50 per item, up to a maximum of €25 per family per month. Since the introduction of the prescription charge, the monthly threshold has increased from €10 to €25.
It was announced that there will be a review of medical cards. The Government say they hope to raise €113 million from the review. This will include savings of €25 million when the full medical card is taken off some older people aged over 70- Up to 35,000 people could be affected by this. They will revert back to a free GP card.
€20 million was allocated for the continuing development of community mental health services. This is a reduction from the €35 million allocated in 2013.
There was no change to rates for core social welfare payments, including Disability Allowance, Carers Allowance, Carers Benefit, Respite Care Grant and the Domiciliary Care Allowance. The half-rate Carer’s Allowance is maintained.
The telephone allowance of €9.50 per month, per household, will be discontinued from January.
The minimum contribution for Rent Supplement for couples will be increased by €5 per week, to €40- The minimum contribution for single people will not change.
The Bereavement Grant of €850 will be discontinued.
All statutory maternity benefit rates have been standardised to €230 per week for new claimants. This comes on top of the Budget 2012 measure to tax maternity benefit.
The rates of the Job Seekers Allowance payment have decreased for young single unemployed people. All new claimants aged 18-24 years will receive €100 per week, and 25 year olds will have their payment cut from €188 to €144. The full rate will apply to all those over 26 years.
Education and Skills:
There will be an additional 1,395 extra teachers and classroom resource teachers at primary and secondary level next year, in line with demographic changes.
€4.5 million has been allocated to improve the quality of service provision in the pre-school sector. This will see recruitment of additional Pre-School Inspectors, a new mentoring service to advance the implementation of AISTEAR and SIOLTA and a training grant to upskill current staff to the new qualification requirements.
There will be a €30 million investment in social housing, which will see 500 new units available. These homes will either be built or will be a refurbishment of vacant stock.
€25 million is being provided to improve the energy efficiency of 12,500 local authority houses through retrofitting and improved insulation.
The One Parent Tax Credit is being altered. This tax credit was payable to both parents where parents are parenting separately and was worth €1,650- Now it will the ‘Single Person Child Carer Credit’ and only the primary carer is eligible to claim it.
2014 RATES FOR ALLOWANCES
■ Disability Allowance (personal rate) will not change and stays at €188
■ Carers Allowance (under 66) will not change and stays at €204
■ Carers Allowance (over 66) will not change and stays at €239
Carer’s Benefit and Constant Attendance Allowance
■ Carers Benefit will not change and stays at €205
Respite Care Grant
■ The Respite Care Grant will not change, and stays at €1,375 annually.
Domiciliary Care Allowance
■ No change, remains at €309.50, payable monthly.