Step up action to stop government disability cuts

The cutbacks to disability services, accessed by over 25,000 people across the country, represents a new low in the government’s slash and burn policies. Not content with laying waste to the economy to facilitate bailing out the banks, the government is now sticking the boot into the most vulnerable section of society.

In recent weeks, government ministers have been busy peddling a media spin campaign of lies and misrepresentation, particularly claiming no frontline services will be affected by cost cutting measures. The reality is the complete opposite. The cuts that have already been implemented or will be implemented in the coming weeks has meant the closure of a number of respite centres and the reduction of other services like day services, family support and after school respite.

The Brothers of Charity have lost €4 million on top of €1.8 million last year. They have been forced to close respite services caring for 377 people in Limerick and residential homes in Galway, catering for 20 people.

The Daughters of Charity in Dublin have seen €7 million slashed from their 2010 budget forcing the closure of Ard Cuan, in Cabra, Dublin, which caters for 84 people with Down Syndrome and intellectual disabilities, and severely cut service in another house, St Louise. The recently opened day care centre, Glenmaroon, on a residential housing complex in Chapelizod, Dublin cares for 54 residents with intellectual disabilities is also facing cuts. These cuts will have a devastating impact on the lives of service users and their families. Respite care offers a vital break for carers who look after family members 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some families can access only one night of respite care per month!

But it gets worse. Enda Egan of the Carers’ Association reported that carers who had asked for more ncontinence pads were asked to bring in used “nappies” to be weighed so the HSE could determine if they actually needed more than the permitted quota! What a disgusting way to treat people. But compare this penny-pinching approach to the way the developers have been treated. No stone is left unturned nor any sum of money is too great to bailout the richest of the rich.

There are an estimated 160,000 carers in the state, mostly family members, who provide 3 million hours of care per week. The lucky ones, if you can call them that, receive a paltry €212.50 per week. Most do not receive anything as the Carers’ Allowance is means-tested. A report commissioned by the Jack and Jill Foundation found it is nine times more expensive to provide acute hospital care for children with a severe disability than to have them cared for in the family home. Rather than show a morsel of respect and appreciation for this vital care, the government reward the sacrifice of carers and their families with draconian cuts.

Fianna Fáil and the Greens must not be allowed to get away with these cuts. Fianna Fail backbenchers who were falling over themselves to oppose the proposed new legislation on dog breeding and stag hunting display only the silence of the lambs when it comes to these cuts.

Nonetheless, the protests and pressure mounted by parents, guardians and users of disability services across the country has forced the government onto the backfoot. Both Cowen and Minster for State John Maloney have been forced to state categorically that there will be no cuts to frontline services. Now is the time to up the ante and force the government back.