Wednesday, 30 June 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Enda Kenny: Governments must make choices every day, and sometimes they are difficult choices. I have disagreed with many of the choices made by this Government in recent years, particularly on spending. The Taoiseach is well aware that in recent days, 60 organisations providing services to the intellectually disabled are now being forced to either reduce services or to cut them out entirely. This is having an enormous impact on those involved and on their parents, friends and families. It is quite stressful to see the anxiety and distress this has caused. The Taoiseach is aware the unit in Caherdavin in Limerick run by the Brothers of Charity that provides services for 377 people is to close and that two weeks’ notice was given to the Daughters of Charity about the closure of the respite centre on the Old Cabra Road.
The Taoiseach is also aware that the best value for money in the health service is given by voluntary organisations, none of which is represented by SIPTU or IMPACT. These people have an enormous output for relatively little money. In the context of priorities and choices that must be made, how is it in a country where there is so much obscene wasting of public money, that this sort of choice is forced on voluntary organisations providing services to the intellectually disabled?
The Taoiseach is also aware of the consequences. How can the Taoiseach justify the reduction of services that are so important to the well-being of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities at a time when there is obscene waste?
The Taoiseach: The whole purpose of the money that is allocated is to protect frontline services to the greatest extent possible. As the Deputy has said, when I was Minister for Health and Children and Minister for Finance, I was anxious to support the area of disability services and brought forward a five year plan by Government to improve and greatly extend the range of services for people with disabilities, be they sensory, physical or intellectual. More than €1 billion is being spent on intellectual disabilities alone.
There are 178 service providers under sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act. Up to 90% of services are provided by 25 of them. The important point, given that there are limited resources generally, and against a background of increased resources being given to this sector, is that the provision of services in the non-frontline areas ensures there is enough money at the frontline. The Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Moloney, and the Minister for Health and Children are working to see how we can ensure that for the future. Changes must take place in the support services behind the frontline services. We cannot have 178, or even 25, service providers, even if they provide an excellent service. There must be room for change so we can release resources to the frontline against the background of strict budgetary parameters.
That being said, we must do everything we can to assist the most vulnerable. That is being worked on as a priority by the Minister and the Department. In the context of sustaining services for the future, there must be changes in how organisations cooperate. Why should there be 25 different payroll systems, why should there be a series of different approaches by various organisations? Those all must be pulled together so there are sufficient services at the frontline.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I do not doubt the Taoiseach’s personal commitment to this area and I do not disagree that changes must be made. I disagree fundamentally, however, with the fact that no analysis was done of the impact of across the board cutbacks before those changes were implemented.
About whom are we talking? These are children and young people with great difficulties in their personal lives because of the intellectual challenges they face, which leave them needing 24 hour care and attention, ranging from someone trying to understand their gestures to those with metabolic disorders and intellectual disabilities that cause serious behavioural problems. The consequences of the administration minding itself and cuts in frontline voluntary services impact directly on these children and young people and, as a consequence, on their families. I met some of them yesterday. That respite has been taken away, even for four hours once a month, impacts seriously on their lives. That is the consequence of such cutbacks.
When the Taoiseach says he wants to do all he can to help this area, I take the sentiment at face value but what has happened in the Department of Health and Children? What other choices are being made? In the Vote for the Department’s budget, the administration budget has gone up by 11% to €42 million this year. That €4 million increase would keep the Daughters of Charity facilities open. The increase includes rises of 67% for office supplies, 104% for consultancy services and almost 600% for value for money reviews. The entertainment budget has been doubled from €100,000 to €200,000, which would keep one of the facilities open for this year.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I do not doubt the Taoiseach’s personal commitment but this is what has happened under his nose, these are the choices the Government has made, these are the priorities the Government has decided upon and these are the consequences for those children and their families. If the Taoiseach wants to make changes he should at least have looked at what the structure has done; it has protected itself and is demolishing services throughout the country to the detriment of people’s quality of life, particularly that of young people affected by intellectual disability. In what circumstances can the Taoiseach justify making choices such as this without examining areas where we could have had serious cutbacks in administration that would keep these levels of services open for those who so need them?
The Taoiseach: With regard to the administrative situation, bodies have been subsumed back into the Department. I want to explain this because there is no point in putting out information and then everyone assuming——
The Taoiseach: ——it is just random spending on areas that are not essential. The issue is that there are bodies which needed to be brought back within departmental responsibility and they are being subsumed back into the Department.
With regard to the question on value for money, if one is spending, as we are, more than €15,000 million of taxpayer money on health services of course one will increase value for money initiatives to see, in a sustainable way against the background in which any Government now has to operate, what savings initiatives can be identified. That work has to be done and it is precisely what is being done in the area of disability services.
There are more than 176 providers of disability services throughout the country; there are probably more than 200 such providers. Section 38 organisations include the Brothers of Charity which obtained approximately €125 million and the Sisters of Charity which obtained approximately €100 million. Section 39 organisations are smaller organisations which receive a grant-in-aid from the Department. There have to be savings in respect of how those services are organised. It is clear we have to do this against the background of less money being available from the taxpayer to deal with these services. We want to make sure that we protect——
The Taoiseach: If it is the contention that the solution to the problem is simply to increase the allocations against a background where we know more money is not coming into the Exchequer, that will not solve that problem.
The Taoiseach: I would put my record in this area against Deputy Stanton any day of the week. I would put my record on this issue against anybody in the House and my record will prove it and has proven it.
The Taoiseach: It was the Cinderella part of the services for a long time and there were significant moneys involved. In fairness to those involved in the area, this has often been fully acknowledged and recognised. The point is that we have a problem now and the problem we need to address is how we re-organise the provision of those services to try to maintain sufficient moneys at the frontline——
A question was asked on whether international conferences on health issues will come to this country, which is part of the subhead mentioned with regard to expenses. No Member of the House would stand over non-essential spending in some of these areas but there are——
I want to come back to the central point. Some of the issues raised by Deputy Kenny can and should be answered in full. They will be answered in full but I am explaining the context in which all of this is happening. The real point to make is that every effort will be made to work with people providing disability services. How do we reduce non-frontline expenditure so we have sufficient funding for the frontline? We all know some element of support expenditure has to be provided, no more than one cannot have a consultant in a hospital providing proper services without secretarial support. We all understand it is not a black and white issue but it is an issue that needs to be addressed and will only be addressed if we re-organise how the services are provided.
The Taoiseach: That is what we intend to do; that is how we intend to work with the services. In the meantime, we have to try to address the difficulties that arise in the context of the budget. Against the background of last year’s budget, an extra €20 million——
The Taoiseach: ——over the 2009 spend was provided for disability services. In total it is in the order of €1.6 billion. I recall when I announced in this House a five year programme for the development of disability services what the initial baseline figure was. That aside, it does not take away from the fact that issues arise today that we want to try to resolve but they can only be resolved if we approach it in the way I suggest.
The Taoiseach: To suggest it would be resolved otherwise, simply by providing for more expenditure regardless of the budget situation, is not being honest or straightforward with the people with whom we want to engage on this issue.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I understand that the live register figures for the numbers unemployed for the month of June will be published later this morning. Does the Taoiseach have those figures and if so will he inform the House on the number of people who are now on the live register?
The Taoiseach: The figure is expected to be 13.4%, up from the May figure of 13.2%. Due to seasonal factors, the live register rises every June without exception. The increase this year is considerably less than the increase in June last year of more than 21,000. Based on seasonally adjusted figures from the Department of Social Protection, the increase in June is expected to be approximately 5,800. The overall figures include more than 63,000 people who work part time and more than 23,000 people who sign on to claim credits. Participation in the back to education allowance scheme has doubled this year and more than 5,600 of the inflow in the first three weeks of June are from this scheme. The figure to be announced by the Central Statistics Office is 452,882.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: That is the highest number of people ever unemployed in the State. It is 300,000 more than were on the live register when the general election took place in May 2007. It is 100,000 jobs lost each year that the Government in its present form has been in office, and 2,000 jobs lost each week. This is not counting the number of people who have left the country as immigrants who have gone home and young Irish people who have emigrated to Australia and elsewhere.
The biggest crisis that the country is facing at present is the level of unemployment. Two weeks ago, I stated that according to the CSO figures, 40% of those who are out of work have been out of work for more than a year. One in every three young men in the workforce is out of work. It impacts on the level of poverty experienced by households and the self-esteem and morale of the individuals out of work. It is the cause of huge worry to parents who wonder whether their children will get work or whether they will have to emigrate. It also impacts hugely on the public finances because every person out of work represents a cost of approximately €20,000 to the State through tax lost and social welfare payments.
When will the Government take seriously the issues of unemployment and getting people back to work? The number quoted by the Taoiseach on the increase in the back to education allowances is marginal compared to what is happening. The unemployment exchange in my constituency is beside a college of education with a cap on the number entering. Increased numbers of people are out of work. No active measures are being taken by the Government to get people back to work and very little is being done to get them into education and training.
The Taoiseach: This is the issue with which we are dealing on an ongoing and daily basis and the only way in which we can create more jobs is to make our economy more competitive. We have had this discussion on a number of occasions. Jobs will not be created in a vacuum and will not be created on the basis of letting our public finances go out of control. They certainly will not be created by the contention that we should not try to repair the banking system, which is fundamental. The real issue and the contention being made by the Deputy is that no efforts are being made by Government. It is very much the contrary. All actions of Government are about making sure that growth comes back to the economy and in the second half of this year it has been confidently predicted that it will. Indeed, from the last quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year some finance houses have suggested that growth is returning.
The road back to recovery will be difficult and hard. We know that and we want to get back on that road as quickly as possible. The difficult decisions that we are taking have to be taken and are absolutely necessary. Despite the disappointing figures this morning, I draw the Deputy’s attention to the household survey which is the measure of employment in the country. It is not correct to say that 450,000 are unemployed in the country. There are 287,000 who are drawing unemployment benefit for five days. There are 63,000 people who are working part-time and 23,000 people who are claiming credits. Of the people who are applying for unemployment benefit whose applications are currently being processed, 20,000 are on supplementary welfare allowance. These figures are for the purpose of putting the facts in place.
I do not suggest for one moment that there is any degree of satisfaction or complacency about these figures but we will only turn this around on the basis of doing the job of work which the Government is engaged in, reducing our costs, getting exports going, as we are doing, and making sure that people can sell goods and services in the marketplace in order to maintain the jobs we have, take on part-time people in due course and then turn those jobs into permanent jobs. That is the way back for this economy and it is the only way back. We have to put our public finances in order in doing that.
If we did not do that we would not be able to fund the deficit we have or maintain the services which, we have seen, are under pressure this morning. We would not be able to continue as a country to work our way through this over the next number of years and get this country back to work. Everything that we do is about trying to make sure that we get growth back into this economy. It is coming in the second half of this year. We have to hope that there will not be further turbulence in the markets. There is no room for complacency here, week in and week out. We are doing everything.
In regard to the activation measures, it is simply not fair to suggest that we are doing nothing about it or are indifferent to it. We have doubled the number of training places to 157,000 compared to 60,000 in 2008. On the point made by the Deputy about post leaving certificate courses offered in the adjoining institution to the employment exchange in his constituency, looking at the national figure in 2010 almost 40,000 learners will participate in full-time further education and a range of schemes or programmes with an estimated 125,000 learners participating in part-time programmes. One of the reasons there is a rise in the June 2010 figure is that those in receipt of the back to education allowance, which is suspended until September as it accords with the school year and which has been doubled this year, are obviously coming back onto the register and are in receipt of unemployment benefit until the back to education allowance returns. That is a measure of the activity in that scheme and not inactivity.
Everything that can be done to promote activation and find opportunities for people to up-skill and train is being done. Increased resources are being applied. At the end of the day, unless we continue along the road we are on to secure our children’s future and do as we are doing it in the necessary way, we will put all of that at risk and we do not intend to do that.
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