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People with disabilities and their families will view the current round of party conferences as a marker on whether or not their voices are being heard. These conferences will be “setting out the stall” of parties in anticipation of the next general election. We expect to hear lots about jobs, wage and pension increases, reduced taxes and, of course, the move away from austerity. And this is all positive for most people.

The 600,000 people in this country affected by some level of disability, along with families and carers, will be waiting for a “return of services and allowances” so they can restart the journey to active citizenship in one of the wealthiest countries. Surely this is not too much to ask?

The years since the collapse of our banks in 2008 have brought constant worry and fear to people with disabilities and their families. This fear is increasing. Disabled people have been subjected to the general austerity programme. They have also been subjected to cuts and reductions in services that aim to support them to progressively achieve independence. The recession has delivered them a double blow and yet they rarely receive a mention as politicians lay out their stalls.

 

Full employment

It is good news for all to note the Government’s prediction of full employment by 2018; but that is for people not disabled. As yet the much promised “comprehensive employment strategy” for disabled people has not seen the light of day. Too many people with disability are experiencing poverty. Dealing with this must surely be a priority for any political party standing before the people at election time?

It is estimated an extra one-third of the average weekly wage is required in order to live with a disability. For the many people unable to participate fully in employment, this must be recognised by those who control the allowance strings. This will take more than kind words and promises but a specific commitment, backed up by concrete expenditure figures.

Disability Federation of Ireland believes that, given the continued burden of debt repayment, reduced tax take, increasing pay rates, pent-up need, the growing disability demographic and rising expectations, Ireland is about to witness the perverse irony of economic growth and full employment – as access to necessary services gets progressively worse.

So, as the Government starts its final year, and Fine Gael and the Labour Party are holding their conferences, the question from the disability movement is what will be their disability legacy?

 

Hollow claims

To tell us they did everything to minimise the cuts to vital services and to our modest incomes will ring hollow. If a week is a long time in politics, a year is sufficient to make significant changes where the will exists. Yes it will require leadership and hard choices, but that is what this Government promised.

This country, if it is to be successful as a modern economically sustainable democracy, needs a suite of infrastructure supports, such as broadband, roads, public transport, education and banks that provide credit. The State also needs to understand health and social services infrastructure is as important as education or financial services infrastructure if we are to maximise the benefits from economic recovery.

Several thousand will become disabled for the first time this year. This will have a massive impact on the individuals and those who love them. It is important for all voters to reflect on how we provide for people with disability. There is real concern the recovery will not address the long-standing exclusion of those we represent from full participation in our society.

Our national disability strategy, which has the verbal support of all elected politicians, needs to be experienced by those it was designed to support and not pulled out as a basis for further promises. As disabled people, we are resolved there will be no recovery without us. The 600,000 with disabilities and their families will not be ignored this time out.

 

Originally published in the Irish Times on Wednesday 25th February.

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