52,000 Cork people with a disability have a vote... charities call on them to use it

A group of well-known disability charities and people with disabilities and their families will meet Cork General Election candidates today, Friday January 31, to ask them to commit to address €20 million in funding deficits. KATHLEEN O’MEARA, Director of Communications and Public Affairs with Rehab Group, tells us more
52,000 Cork people with a disability have a vote... charities call on them to use it
Kathleen O’Meara Director of Communications and Public Affairs with Rehab Group.

SERVICES being provided to thousands of children and adults of people with disabilities across Cork city and county are under threat as a result of a planned €20 million cut to disability services in this year’s HSE’s budget.

This could mean that respite and day services, personal assistance, and other critical services, currently being provided by many disability service providers in Cork, will have to be curtailed. These are services which are critical to people’s day-to-day lives, critical to giving people the care they need to stay alive, a chance to live a life of their choosing, a voice.

More than 52,000, or 12% of people in Cork currently live with a disability. In fact, Cork city has the highest number of people living with disabilities in the country. Organisations like the Rehab Group, Enable Ireland, and the Irish Wheelchair Association who provide vital services to families all over Cork, say they have already cut their budgets back to the bone and that it will not be possible to maintain them at the current level if the HSE enforce further cuts.

This 1pc cut, which was communicated to services just before the General Election was called, comes as disability service providers are coping with the crippling burden of years of underfunding, dating back to the recession. According to our Coalition partner, Enable Ireland it will mean reductions to their frontline services, which include clinical and therapy services, respite and day services and home and community support services.

This may result in delays in accessing services, reduction in availability of services, for example reduction in bed nights available for respite or hours available for support, longer waiting lists for clinical teams which will lead to delays in assessment and diagnosis and longer waiting times for intervention.

The shock announcement comes only weeks after a commitment in the Budget of an additional €25m for disability services. So, essentially, the outgoing Government has given with one hand, and taken away with the other. These cuts in funding for vital services on the ground, could not have come at a worse time. Years of underfunding, combined with the burden of not being funded for the high cost of regulation, the spiralling cost of insurance and the lack of full pay restoration, has resulted in a fundamental crisis for disability service providers all over the country. The HSE estimated that compliance with HIQA requirements raised the cost of disability services by €57m in 2015 and yet there has been no recognition of this in subsequent budgets. Many organisations are struggling from year to year, with growing deficits which are seriously hindering their ability to grow their services and meet the real need in the communities they serve.

This crisis has led to nine well-known national disability organisations coming together to form The Disability Action Coalition. The aim of this Coalition is to campaign for a new and secure future for their organisations and for the wider sector. The Coalition is made up of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Enable Ireland, Rehab Group, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, Cheshire, Chime, the National Council for the Blind in Ireland, Headway and Multiple Sclerosis Ireland. Together they employ 9000 staff and provide services for 20,000 adults and children with physical, sensory, intellectual and mental health disabilities all over Ireland.

Most of these organisations are providing services for people with disabilities in Cork city and county and thousands of people with disabilities are depending on them for day services, for respite services, for vital assistance in their homes, and to support them to live independently.

This constant struggle to ensure that the people who use their services get what they need will be put to General Election candidates from Cork North Central and Cork South Central at a public meeting at National Learning Network in Hollyhill today. Here, the candidates can hear first-hand what further cuts would mean to hard pressed families all over the city and county. The candidates will be asked to commit to reversing the HSE’s proposed devastating cuts, to deal with the deficits which many organisations are carrying due to underfunding, and to ensure that all staff have their pay fully restored.

The HSE’s own research shows that the need for services for people with disability is growing simply because the number of people with disabilities in Ireland is growing. This includes people who acquire a disability through illness or an accident, and those who are born with one. Remember, disability can visit anyone’s life at any time. The underfunding crisis means that it will be more difficult than ever to meet their needs. It means they will be waiting longer and longer for depleted services. It means that they won’t get a full service. It means that their families will struggle. And it’s neither fair nor acceptable.

In the noise of a General Election campaign, it is hard for people with disabilities to have their voices heard. The campaign by the Disability Action Coalition is about trying to get the voice of people with disabilities on the agenda, and to ensure that candidates hear it. All over the country today, meetings like the Hollyhill one are taking place, in an effort to bring the crisis facing disability service providers to the attention of candidates and those who will be members of the next Dáil and the next Government.

The 52,000 people with disabilities in Cork city and county have a vote, as do their families, as well as the staff who are dedicated every day to supporting them. Their futures depends on the outcome of the Election on February 8 . This Election gives them an opportunity to be heard. Please join us as we call on your election candidates to future-proof the services so many of our most vulnerable people rely on.

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