In less than 24 hours, we as a nation will be picking at the bones of Budget 2016, due to be announced today. I’m sure as always spending increases and cuts will be debated all over the internet. It’s depressing to think of the citizens of this country glued to the TV and Radio, waiting to hear if the Government is going to be generous this year after seven years of cutbacks that have left many families struggling to pay their bills. But as we all know, election time is coming, so I’ve no doubt that serious attempts will be made to dupe the masses into thinking that this government really cares about the average Joe. I doubt it. Many of us are still struggling to keep our head above water, and the homeless crisis is starting to spiral out of control. And for people with disabilities- well – many of us seem to be stuck in some sort of twisted time warp.
In recent months, there has been some much-deserved focus on the problem of people with disabilities being stuck in outdated institutions, where they are mere recipients of basic care. Many of these people are cut off from their local communities, and have little choice over their everyday lives. Every new HIQA scandal is a reminder that the current model of service provision isn’t working. About 8,000 people, 1,000 of which are under twenty-seven, are now living in residential institutions. I cannot imagine having spent my twenties in a hospital-like setting. I spent my twenties partying my way through college, getting work experience and going on holidays abroad. I chose to get married and have a child. I live in my own home. As a thirty-one year old woman, I am doing well for myself. As a thirty-one year old woman with a disability, I am living a dream that some of my peers cannot yet access. And it’s not right.
A few weeks ago a man who I have known and respected for ten years, veteran disability activist Martin Naughton, staged a three-day protest outside the Dail and was joined by many colleagues and friends. He urged for this government not to spend €450 million on maintaining and building new residential institutions for people with disabilities and instead to allow access to individualised payments that would enable us to choose the services we need to live equally and independently. Predictably, the protest ended on a disappointing note, with no concrete commitments made to improving service provision for people with disabilities. According to the group of protestors named the People with Disabilities group, more than 68% of service users are currently dissatisfied with services provided to them. They claim this is because the people who use these services are chiefly recipients of them and do not direct them themselves.
Let me ask you a question – who is more knowledgeable on what I need, me, or a team of medical experts who have had their noses in books for the last six years? Each and every person with a disability knows what they need, and what they don’t need. Every day government money is being wasted on organisations and institutions who claim to know what’s best for us. When you have the privilege of working in the disability sector for over ten years, you see first hand the effects of the cutbacks that were made during the recession. I’ve seen high dependency clients’ hours being cut to the bare minimum, often to take them out of bed in the morning and put them back in the evening. I’ve seen people having to fundraise in order to have their houses adapted after acquiring disability because the Housing Adaptation Grant is no longer available. I’ve read stories where people are forced to choose between heating and food. Medical Card revocation, stopping the mobility allowance… I could go on and on.
I followed the response to Martin Naughton’s protest on social media and online papers, and of all the comments left on thejournal.ie, Suzy Byrne managed to clearly articulate the crux of the matter. She wrote: ‘We don’t need celebrities patting us on the head – all they usually do is turn up to rattle buckets for us and get pictures in paper. Same with most politicians – this is the problem – disability is not seen as a human rights issue but one of charity. And too many able bodied people benefit from this in terms of jobs and wages and status in society.’ Every year, after the pre-budget submissions and the announcement of the budget itself, there is silence. The media’s focus on people with disabilities tends to involve the words ‘triumph over adversity’ or ‘inspirational’ or ‘vulnerable.’ These articles tend to also use words ‘brave’, ‘courageous’ and ‘heroic’. There is nothing heroic about having a disability, but trying to push past condescending bullshit and trying to perceived as equals who have so much to offer this country is heroic indeed.
And that’s why we need the Government to listen to us, the experts of disability and spend the money (paid by us, the taxpayers – even those who don’t work buy goods and services) the way that we see fit in order to enable us to be truly equal citizens in this country, worthy of dignity and self -respect, not merely rattling coins in charity buckets. All we want is equality, and this is something money can’t buy.
Oh, and if Enda could deliver on his promise to ratify the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities, that’d be just peachy.