As many of you are aware, people with disabilities are at almost twice the risk of living in poverty (34.8%) as the general population. This is a national scandal, which successive governments have failed to address. Regrettably, working is not an option for everyone and citizens with disabilities are entitled to income support that allows them to live in dignity. It was for these reasons that DFI’s Budget submission 2017 called for an increase of €20 in disability payments to offset some of the additional costs of disability, as well as the protection of all supplementary benefits. Ultimately, the Budget included a €5 increase in weekly rates of Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance, Blind Pension, Illness Benefit, and Disablement Pension. This meagre increase is simply not good enough and this Government has failed the 600,000 living with disability. The 2018 budget affords this government a further opportunity to deal with this vitally important matter.
The Survery on Income and Living Conditions in Ireland, published by the CSO on 1st February 2017, showed that half of the population of people living with disabilities are not able to afford essential items, such as adequately heated homes, two pairs of strong shoes, a warm coat, meat on a frequent basis. These totally independent findings are distressing, but should not come as a surprise to the Government. When the Taoiseach visited the Seanad last year, I took the opportunity to highlight the fact that poverty among people with disabilities was on the increase. On this occasion, I emphasised that “Disability comes to every door and has a couple of hallmarks. It drives people into poverty and causes exclusions and these twin imposters conspire in a potent way to ensure people’s hope and possibilities for the future are diminished. Ireland can and must work against these twin evils.”
In the Seanad, I have remained vocal about the need for the Government to ensure that all people with disabilities have an adequate income that supports them to live with dignity. I will continue to make the case that eligibility and supports for all employment activation schemes must be inclusive of people with disabilities, regardless of the social welfare payment they are receiving. Measures must be put in place to ‘make work pay’ for people with disabilities, including a Disability Tax Credit and medical card based on need.