Thursday, 30 June 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
79. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the six Departments required to produce outline sectoral plans within 12 months of the commencement of the Disability Bill 2004 should now be encouraged to produce these plans as a matter of urgency. [23043/05]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): My Department, in common with the other Departments involved, has produced an outline sectoral plan. This plan was published in September 2004 at the launch of the national disability strategy which included the publication of the Disability Bill 2004 and the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004.
The objective of my Department’s plan is to ensure that, as far as is practicable, the schemes and services provided to people with disabilities operate in a manner which facilitates their full participation in society and meets the mainstreaming principle of the equality agenda. The plan provides the framework for progressing and developing services to customers. It gives a brief description of the range of schemes and services available to people with disabilities and covers a wide range of issues including performance standards, supports for people returning to work or education, proactive consultative processes to seek the views of people with disabilities, physical access to departmental premises, specific measures for visually or hearing impaired customers. It also describes the role of Comhairle in meeting the needs of people with disabilities, including the new personal advocacy service to be provided under the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004. It was published in outline form in order to allow a period of consultation and discussion with relevant interested persons or groups before the plan is finalised and laid before the Dáil for approval.
The consultation process involves two major initiatives, the first of which has just been completed. It involved four regional briefings facilitated by the National Disability Authority and was designed to provide information on the contents of the plan and to seek informed feedback. The target audiences for the briefings were people with disabilities, carers, advocates, family members and friends, service providers and the general public. A report on the outputs from the four briefings is being compiled by the National Disability Authority.
The second initiative involves using the existing opportunities we have in place in my Department to get feedback and views from our customers with disabilities. We propose to seek feedback on our outline plan through the disability consultative forum which has been in operation since 1996. This forum comprises representatives of the principal disability organisations and service providers and meets on a quarterly basis. It acts as a channel to communicate the views of the relevant organisations to the Department and makes recommendations which can impact on policy formulation.
I am satisfied that, when finalised, the sectoral plan will provide a focus for the future development of services, provided by my Department, for people with disabilities and will include regular reporting on activities and improvements planned for the future. Production of sectoral plans is a matter for individual Departments. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has overall responsibility regarding the Disability Bill.
86. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to act on the findings of the recent study, Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland, which shows the extent of barriers to full participation in society for disabled persons. [23036/05]
371. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the measures, programmes or supports his Department has in place to increase the participation rate of persons with disabilities in society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23529/05]
It is clear from the ESRI report, Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland, that the barriers faced by people with disabilities and, indeed, other groups who are vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, are multi-faceted and require a multi-agency response. The National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2003-2005 sets out the framework for the Government’s response to these problems. The current plan sets out the range of policies and programmes, such as income and employment supports, health and education, which are being undertaken by relevant Departments aimed at reducing or eliminating poverty and social exclusion.
The national action plan specifically targets people with disabilities as one of a number of groups who are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. The overall aim for people with disabilities is to increase their participation in work and society generally and to assist them and their families to lead full and independent lives. The plan details specific targets and actions which include rehabilitative training provision and skills development; increased participation in third level education; specific employment supports for people with disabilities and employers; access to health care; and care of people with disabilities.
The office for social inclusion, OSI, which is based in my Department, has overall responsibility for developing, co-ordinating and driving the national action plan. The OSI is currently completing a comprehensive review of progress against the targets contained in the current plan and a progress report will be submitted to the EU by the end of this month.
The Government remains committed to continuing efforts to alleviate poverty, especially for those who have not been in a position to benefit from the employment opportunities afforded by high economic growth. During the period 2001 to 2005, there were substantial real increases in social welfare rates, with the lowest rates increasing by 40% while the consumer price index increased by just over 13%. As a result of budget 2005, social welfare payments have increased by three times the expected rate of inflation. Government policy is to increase the level of social welfare over the period to 2007 and this commitment will be delivered. This will benefit all social welfare recipients, including those in receipt of disability payments.
90. Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he intends to introduce the advocacy service for persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22912/05]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): The introduction of a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities is provided for in the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 which was published last September in conjunction with the Disability Bill 2004. The Bill aims to confer additional and enhanced functions on Comhairle, the national information agency, which will enable it to introduce a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities.
The new service will provide for the assignment of a personal advocate to assist, support and represent a person with a disability in applying for and obtaining social services and also in pursuing any right of review or appeal in connection with those services. As announced in this year’s budget package, additional funding of €1 million has been provided to Comhairle to enable the groundwork to commence on the introduction of the new service. It is envisaged that the new personal advocacy service will be introduced in early 2008.
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