Varadkar announces significant measures to help People with Disabilities get into employment
Free Travel Pass for 5 Years and Fast Track Return to Disability Payments
Trained Case Officer Support at Intreo Centres
Today, 6th April 2017, Minister Varadkar, Minister Harris and Minister McGrath together published the “Make Work Pay” Report, designed to help people with disabilities to achieve their ambitions and find work, and to remove the many barriers which prevent them from doing so.
The report was produced by an Interdepartmental Group and independently chaired by Professor Frances Ruane. The report concludes that work does pay for the majority of people with disabilities who wish to engage in work and have the capacity to do so. However they currently face significant financial and other obstacles in finding suitable employment.
The report makes 24 recommendations and today Minister Varadkar confirmed that he is bringing in immediate changes including:
- People with a long-term disability payment who move off the payment to get a job will retain their Free Travel Pass for a period of five years; this measure goes beyond the recommendation of three years contained within the report and comes into effect from today;
- A Fast –Track return to Disability Allowance, or Invalidity Pension for people where employment does not work out;
- Development of a new “Ready Reckoner”, to calculate the net benefits and financial implications of working is already underway;
- The Department will review its communications with a specific focus on the needs of people with disabilities;
- There will be regular reviews of policies to ensure their effectiveness.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Varadkar said: “We want to help more people with disabilities to achieve their employment ambitions and enter the workforce Unemployment and poverty among people with disabilities is high in Ireland and we would like to help to change that. Work is the best way forward for many people with disabilities but we need to ensure that the right support is provided.
“This is an excellent report with lots of constructive proposals that we are already acting on. The first change is that people on a long-term disability payment, including disability allowance, can keep their Free Travel Pass for five years after taking up work. This goes beyond the report’s own recommendation of three years. My Department is also launching a protocol to allow people to return to Disability Allowance seamlessly if work doesn’t work out within a year. In Ireland, people with disabilities of working age are only half as likely to be in work as their non-disabled peers.”
The report found that in the majority of cases, work does pay for people with disabilities and that Ireland’s incentive scheme is broadly in line with other OECD countries. The report provides a detailed examination of the financial barriers faced by people with disabilities in fulfilling their employment ambitions and makes 24 recommendations to overcome these barriers.
The report highlights the importance of early intervention and making supports available at the earliest opportunity. One of its recommendations is to support young adults through education, training and social inclusion according to their capacity, and to change the qualifying age for disability allowance at 16.
However, there is a legitimate expectation among parents and families that a child who currently receives domiciliary care allowance will qualify for disability allowance at age 16. Minister Varadkar has therefore ruled out making any change in this area unless it is supported by the disability sector. And he has invited parents and disability advocates to discuss the issue.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said his Department was committed to addressing what the report finds is the single most significant barrier for people with disabilities, saying:"I want to acknowledge that one of the greatest barriers to accessing employment is people’s fear of losing supports. I fully understand the anxiety that people with a disability and who hold a medical card may have about losing their medical card and that this can discourage them from entering the workforce or, even worse, cause them to want to opt out of working altogether. I am determined to address these concerns directly.
“Today’s report commits my Department, the Department of Social Protection and the HSE to work together to ensure that people with a disability have all the information they require about their medical card, and its retention, at the point where they are making a decision about current or future employment. We will ensure that this information is clear, concise, readily available and accessible to everyone who needs it.
"One of the most significant elements of the report relates to the earnings disregard applied to people in receipt of Disability Allowance or Partial Capacity Benefit when it comes to assessing eligibility for a medical card. I am committed to substantially raising the earnings disregard for people in this category and my Department and the HSE have already begun work on this. I do not anticipate that this work will involve an extended process and I look forward to announcing implementation plans within the coming months.
"Raising the earnings level disregard will ensure that those with long-term disabling conditions who have modest earnings will still be eligible for a medical card and this will address what the report finds is the single most significant barrier for people with disabilities."
Welcoming the publication of the Report, Minister with Special Responsibility for Disabilities, Finian McGrath said: “Since my appointment as Minister for Disabilities, one of my key objectives has been to see more people with disabilities encouraged into the workplace and I believe this is a very important report within the context of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities and I look forward to the implementation of the recommendations in the report in accordance with the timelines set by the group."
Professor Ruane commented: "The report’s recommendations are robustly evidence-based and I believe provide a strong basis for Government Departments to act. I'm convinced that these recommendations, if implemented and taken in the context of the comprehensive employment strategy, will make a real difference to helping people with disabilities to achieve their employment ambitions according to their capacity. However, progress will only be made if Government Departments, agencies and the disability sector continue to work together to achieve their common objectives.”
Minister Varadkar also confirmed that his Department officials have been preparing for the report’s publication in order to better support people with disabilities. Some 166 Case Officers have been trained to provide a service to people with disabilities across the Department’s network of Intreo Centres. This training is being extended to other Case Officers and front line staff to provide a more comprehensive overview of employment supports for people with a disability.
Note for Editors
The report ‘Make Work Pay’ is available on the Department of Social Protection’s website www.welfare.ie