News from Inclusion Ireland

by Siobhan Kane, Inclusion Ireland

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inclusion-irelandYes vote in Children’s Referendum

Inclusion Ireland was one of many not-for-profit organisations that supported a yes vote in the recent Children’s Referendum. The Referendum was passed by a majority of 58 per cent on 10 November. Paddy Connolly, Inclusion Ireland CEO spoke in support of the referendum saying: ‘The rights of children with an intellectual disability and autism have been disregarded by successive governments…. A yes vote will be a clear message to this government that the Irish people expect them to act on the wishes of the people to protect and cherish all the children of the state equally, including children with disabilities. Inclusion Ireland believes that the proposed change to the Irish Constitution is another step towards embedding a culture in Ireland of respect for human rights …. A Yes vote will place further expectation on the Irish government to vindicate these rights in Irish law.’

13% of population have a disability

New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that almost 600,000 people in Ireland, equalling 13 per cent of the population, have a disability. The figures are published in the CSO’s Bill of Health, which is a profile of the health of the Irish population. It shows the following:
— Going outside the home was difficult for 22,989 people, while 21,844 found it hard to participate in other activities.
— Among disabled people aged 15-49, 16.3% had not gone beyond primary-level education, compared with 5% of the general population.
— Secondary school was the highest level attained by 22.3% of disabled people, compared to 15% of those without a disability.
— There were 162,681 people with a disability in the labour force—a participation rate of 30%, compared to almost 62% of the overall population.
— There were 57,709 people (1.3%) with an intellectual disability and the greatest incidence was among 10-14-year-old boys at almost 4,000—more than double that of girls at 1,900-
— The census showed that 187,112 persons, or 4.1% of the total population, were providing unpaid assistance to another last year.
— Of the carers, 114,113 (61%) were women and 72,999 (39%) men. Some 4,228 children aged under 15 were providing care—2.3% of all carers.

HIQA publishes draft standards

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) are due to begin independent inspections of residential centres for children and adults with disabilities next year. HIQA launched a consultation document on draft national standards in October. HIQA Deputy Director of the Social Services Inspectorate Niall Byrne said the standards set out a ‘vision as to what people can expect from good-quality residential care services’. There are an estimated 1,700 residential services for people with disabilities. (To download the draft standards visit www.hiqa.ie). Inclusion Ireland welcomed the publication of the draft standards, and that time has been given over to public consultation, saying ‘Inclusion Ireland has been campaigning for nearly 20 years for independent inspection of disability services, and we hope inspections will finally start as early as possible next year. We encourage people with disabilities and their families to feed into the process and get their voice heard.’

Welfare appeals system ‘needs radical overhaul’

Legal rights group FLAC launched a legal analysis of the social welfare appeals system in October. Their report, entitled ‘Not Fair Enough’, shows that the social welfare appeals system does not measure up to basic human rights standards in several areas, such as independence, transparency, access to information and fair procedures. FLAC called for a root-and-branch reform of the appeals system and outlined a list of concerns about the process, including lengthy delays in decisions and the Appeals Office’s lack of independence.

In 2011 the average time to process appeals by the Appeals Office was more than 32 weeks. The department itself took an average of 12.9 weeks to pass requested information on to the Appeals Office, while the average processing time for an appeal which required an oral hearing was 52.5 weeks. FLAC also highlighted inadequate consistency and transparency in decision-making and access to legal advice and representation for those appealing decisions. The Report was launched by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who said those appealing decisions must have the chance to put their case at an oral appeal hearing.

FLAC also launched three guides to help people accessing social welfare:
— a checklist for applying for a Social Welfare payment;
— a guide to making a Social Welfare appeal;
— and a guide to the Habitual Residence Condition.
(The report and guides are free to download from the FLAC website at www.flac.ie.)

Ombudsman criticises Government over age limit on Mobility Allowance

The government is to take legal advice on the mobility allowance, following a report from Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly that shows the state has acted illegally in refusing the allowance to people over 66 years of age. The Mobility Allowance is a means-tested monthly payment from the HSE, to people who have a disability and are unable to walk or use public transport. It can be used, for example, to finance taxi journeys. The payment is made to approximately 45,000 people, and is worth a maximum of €208.50 a month.

Emily O’Reilly published a report in late October that said the Minister for Health James Reilly was breaking the law and rejecting international human rights principles by failing to remove the upper age limit on the allowance. She said limiting the allowance to people aged under 66 ‘raises fundamental questions about the strength of our commitment to international human rights norms’, and ‘the continued failure of the department to tackle this issue suggests … a very weak sense of the rule of law and of its obligation to act in accordance with the law.’ Ms O’Reilly said when the scheme was introduced in 1979 the upper age limit was legal, however once the Equal Status Act became legislation in 2000 the state could no longer discriminate on grounds of age.

The report says the department has been operating the scheme for the past 12 years on the basis of a condition that is illegal, and that it has known it to be illegal for the past four years. The Department of Health originally promised last year to review the mobility allowance scheme, but it now says it cannot afford to make the changes recommended by the ombudsman. Department Secretary General Ambrose McLoughlin said allowing those aged over 66 to avail of the allowance would ‘ignore the very serious financial constraints’ on the state and ‘create liabilities that the state could not afford’. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the government will seek further legal advice on the issue and they want to resolve it in a way that is ‘reasonable, sustainable and does not cause undue distress’ to people receiving the allowance.

Inclusion Ireland says advocates must have statutory powers

Inclusion Ireland has called for statutory powers for advocates working in the National Advocacy Service (NAS), following reports published in the media in early November that show a lack of cooperation from state agencies on important issues relating to people with disabilities.

Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly said that media reports showing resistance and a lack of cooperation from the HSE and disability service providers towards state-funded advocates supporting people with disabilities mirror Inclusion Ireland’s own experience of providing advocacy for people with an intellectual disability and their families.
He said this experience could be very different for NAS advocates if government were to enact the 2007 Citizens Information Act: ‘Establishing the National Advocacy Service is part of the Citizens Information Act, and NAS was launched in 2011. However, providing advocates with statutory powers was also in the Act, and this has not happened. These statutory powers would enable advocates to enter residential services and request information. Currently, advocates have no power to obtain information or attend meetings or consultations, and can only operate on the basis of voluntary cooperation of service providers. The Citizens Information Act 2007 is a cornerstone of the much-vaunted 2004 National Disability Strategy. We are aware from the work of NAS that cooperation from service providers and some professional groups is not always forthcoming. This is an experience shared by Inclusion Ireland advocates. The NAS reports show that people with disabilities continue to be abused and have their rights ignored. Some of these reports were made public in the media (Irish Times, 30 October 2012, 31 October 2012). Inclusion Ireland believes these reports should be made publicly available, with appropriate protection of people’s confidentiality.’

‘Inclusion Ireland calls for the full implementation of the Citizens Information Act so that NAS advocates are statutorily empowered. There is no reason, of which we are aware, why this fundamental piece of legislation in not yet fully enacted.’

Inclusion Ireland welcomes €7 million investment in employment programmes for people with a disability

Inclusion Ireland welcomed Social Protection Minister Joan Burton’s announcement in late October, that €7 million will be invested in employment programmes targeted forat people with disabilities under the Disability Activation Project (DACT). ‘People with disabilities face great barriers in accessing employment, and the government’s decision to target funding at this area is very welcome,’ said Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly.

People with disabilities did not experience the boom period in the same way as people without a disability, and the unemployment rate among people with a disability continues to be far higher than in the general population. The 2006 CSO Equality in Ireland report found that only 16% of women with a disability and 26.8% of men with a disability were in employment.
Mr. Connolly said, ‘Minister Burton’s comment on the untapped potential of people with disabilities is very true—for many people with a disability, their own ambitions are often stalled by societal attitudes of low expectation. People with an intellectual disability, in particular, are rarely asked what their ambitions and plans are for future employment. While today’s announcement is welcome, the projects will only continue until 2015, and are specifically targeted at the Borders, Midlands and Western regions. We need a broader strategy that looks at supporting people with a disability to both enter the workplace and stay employed.’

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