Publication - Disability Sectoral Plan July 2006 - 1. Context

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1. Context


1. Context

The Department's Statement of Strategy, Security with Opportunity (2005-07), specifies the Department's mission "to promote a caring society through ensuring access to income support and related services, enabling active participation, promoting social inclusion and supporting families". The Strategy, in the context of the increasingly diverse needs of our different customer groups, places significant emphasis on the need to develop services that not only give customers financial security but encourage maximum participation in society and do so in partnership with other Departments and Agencies.

Political, economic and social factors at national, EU and international levels will all impact on the Department over the period of the Strategy as will changes in the delivery of services themselves. This includes technological changes that will facilitate more customer-centred approaches and allow multiple agencies to manage customers in a more consistent and integrated fashion.

The key changes in the political context are those arising from the Programme for Government, the Social Partnership Agreement and the National Action Plans to combat poverty and social exclusion (NAP/Inclusion). The main elements of the Programme for Government which impact the strategy are captured under the themes of 'Sustaining a Strong Economy, Building an Inclusive Society and Supporting Civil Life.' These include commitments relevant to the Department in the areas of Disability and Caring.

The economic environment is also critical in terms of creating the potential to make resources available for improved income support and new service initiatives. It is anticipated that over the medium term, the continued buoyancy in the labour market will allow for growth in employment and an increase in the employment rate over time. The employment rate for people with disabilities is, however, significantly less than for others. The report by the National Disability Authority on Disability and Work shows that people with disabilities are two and a half times less likely to be in work than non disabled people and that people who are more severely restricted in what they can do have substantially lower employment rates than others.

The longitudinal data obtained in the Living in Ireland Survey (conducted with a set of individuals between 1994 and 2000) found that, of those reporting a chronic illness or disability, in all six years of the study, they had spent an average of only 1.6 years in work over the period, whereas those who never reported an illness or disability spent 3.5 of the years in work on average. Thus, whilst the buoyancy in the labour market may benefit people with disabilities, as part of the wider population seeking employment, it is clear that more specific measures will be required if their employment rates are to substantially increase.

Despite the fall in the level of unemployment since the 1990s, the percentage of the population of working age dependent on social welfare payments has remained consistent albeit with a change to its composition. The numbers in receipt of unemployment payments has decreased whilst the numbers receiving illness/disability, carers and lone parent payments continues to increase. The total number of recipients of illness, disability and caring payments increased from just over 143,000 at end 1996 to almost 240,000 by end 2005. Spending on illness, disability and caring has risen in the same 10 years from €710m in 1996 to over 2 billion in 2005. The main reasons for the increase in expenditure are the introduction of and improvements to the Carer's Allowance and an increase in the numbers of recipients of Disability Allowance.

The latest data on poverty, from the EU SILC, show that the percentage of persons experiencing consistent poverty (below 60% median income and deprived of basic items) fell from 8.8% in 2003 to 6.8% in 2004 and a downward trend also applied to people whose main income status is sick or disabled over these two years. Poverty rates which can also result in persons becoming socially excluded have clear implications in relation to the needs for income support and for supporting transitions to employment.

The National Disability Strategy presents an opportunity to consider the needs of people with disabilities in a more comprehensive and coherent way than hitherto. In this sense, the strategy presents an opportunity to apply the vision underlying the Department's own Strategy and outlined in the NESC study on the Developmental Welfare State as a concrete series of supports and services.

To date, the main focus of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, has been to provide income support to people with disabilities who cannot provide for themselves and thereby tackle the underlying problem of a relatively high level of poverty amongst people with disabilities. This income support provision impacts on the lives of almost every person In the State and remains the largest element of the Department's business. The role of the Department, however, also includes supports for people to return to work and support for activities to combat poverty. In relation to people with disabilities, and in line with the changing policy orientation, the Department will seek to deliver these supports in a way which reduces the risk of dependence and allows people with disabilities to move, where possible, from a position of income dependence to one where they can to a far greater extent meet their income needs from employment.

The Department recognises that these objectives present major challenges. In the first instance, people with illness or disability do not comprise a homogenous group. They range from those with temporary illness who will return to work within a short time period without support, those on long term absences who need support to return their jobs and those who may either have no capacity or only partial capacity to undertake employment. Secondly, for people with illness or disabilities, interventions are required which respect and recognise the needs of different categories, are integrated across agencies and which serve to address the issues of long term social welfare dependency. This is particularly relevant in policies to increase job retention, return to work and employment rates among people with disabilities. Thirdly, the policy orientation on some issues (most notably policy in relation to social welfare payment rates) extend to all low income groups and a specific sectoral approach must keep in mind the balance between sectoral specific actions and those which apply to a wider range of groups.

Effective cross-departmental co-operation is necessary for the achievement of many of the goals, objectives and strategies of the Department. In relation to issues affecting people with illness and disability and family and informal carers, the Department of Health and Children (DoHC) and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) are the two primary departments with which DSFA interacts but relevant co-operation with other Departments are also referenced in this plan. This includes the Department of Transport ( see Section 3 on Rural Transport Initiative); the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government ( see Section 4, table 4.4.on the review of SWA and the Rental Accommodation Scheme) and the Department of Education and Science ( see Section 5 paragraph 5.4 on the Review of the Back to Education scheme).

As part of the consultation process required under the Disability Act 2005, the DSFA, together with the DETE and the DoHC have agreed protocols on actions to address issues which require inter-departmental co-operation and these are outlined in more detail in section 6 of the plan.

In terms of disability proofing, the Government has agreed to amend the Cabinet Handbook to incorporate a requirement that all substantive memoranda submitted to Government take account of the impact on people with disabilities. Appropriate guidance will be developed to assist with the proofing requirement in the context of proposals being developed in relation to equality proofing more generally.


[1] Disability and Work, The Picture We Learn From Official Statistics (Disability Research Series 1)

[2] Gannon B and Nolan B, ESRI (2005), Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland, A Study for the Equality Authority and the National Disability Authority

[3] EU SILC results for 2004 (CSO 220/2005)

[4] NESC, ibid

Last modified:25/09/2008

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