Claire is a woman I met socially a few months ago. She has had a significant physical disability since birth and following leaving school undertook a period of study in a further education college. She lives in local authority housing having moved there some years ago despite the concerns of her family. She was desperate for her own space and when in college over 10 years ago she thought maybe she could get some part time work in the public sector under the 3% recruitment quota for people with disabilities. However there is an embargo on public sector recruitment for the past 6 years including the recruitment of people with disabilities.
Claire and I began talking about the impact of austerity and budgets on the lives of people with disabilities and I soon realised she had begun to keep a list in her head of all the ways she had been affected. I asked her to write a post for the blog or another publication if she wanted but she said she would prefer if I wrote out the list as she talked and added explanations to it.
Claire would not be able to work full time due to her disability and is limited in the tasks she can undertake due to literacy and communication difficulties. She did try supported employment and job coaching but a job in the private sector could not be found despite many attempts – Claire said she just couldn’t keep up or could not find a job that she was able for and that an employer would be willing to make allowances for her. Claire did take part in a CE scheme but the costs of getting to and from work which were covered by keeping her Disability Allowance payment would now prevent her doing such work again as that payment has been removed for those on CE schemes.
Claire also mentioned the loss of a medical card if she ever did get a job – it’s a worry as a medical card covers more than medicines for people with disabilities and doctors fees. Claire needs help from Public Health Nurses for dressings sometimes, she also needs Occupational Therapy services and new aids and appliances including wheelchairs – both of these services are only available to medical card holders.
She has a few Personal Assistance hours each week and some daily home help hours. However there are days where she does not get a freshly cooked meal because there is not enough time and she might trade the time taken in cooking if instead she needs help getting to a clinic appointment or needs bills paid. So she reheats leftovers or goes out for a meal if she can afford transport. She says that eating out alone is a change of scenery never mind a break from the same food cooked again and again. She has three showers a week but not if there is a bank holiday in the week. Most nights she says she goes to bed earlier than she would want to because that is when her assistance is available to her and it is warmer there.
Claire can’t use public transport without assistance. So if she does not have someone to help her get on and off a bus safely she uses a taxi. She has a mobility allowance which was removed by the government earlier this year but then reintroduced pending the introduction of a new scheme. She wonders if she will still qualify for the new scheme.
Claire listed the cuts she has experienced under this government.
- A 25% cut in home help hours. Refusal to transfer home help hours into Personal Assistance hours which would have meant the PA’s could have helped her go out into her community. (Home helps can only assist with personal care within the home, sometimes the person who helps Claire cannot cook or does not know how to cook – Claire buys food which is more expensive to cover those times to ensure that she will eat. She also mentioned this being more of an issue when her home help hours were cut and getting up out of bed, washed and laundry done competed with time spent preparing food.) Claire’s home helps are called carers – Claire doesn’t like the word much. She would prefer assistants as she thinks having a carer means she should be grateful for it and just let herself be cared for and have no say in things.
- A cut to Electricity and Telephone allowances (Claire has to have a landline for her emergency response unit – a pendant operated call system if she needs help – her line rental is no longer free.) Her electricity Bill is up due to the cuts in allowances and also the big increases levied by the power company in recent years.
- A cut to the number of fuel allowance payments each year from 32 to 26 weeks. Claire noted that she feels the cold more due to her health and also the fact that she is at home more that people who are able to work she has additional costs.
- A €1.50 per month charge for her 5 prescription items received on the medical card. Cost to Claire – €7.50 per month.
- The removal of 3 items from the medical card scheme which means she has to pay for them over the counter – cost to Claire €19 per month.
- Claire’s disability allowance has been cut in 2008/9. Meanwhile everything has increased including VAT on many items she purchases. Claire also mentioned the extra costs she faces in laundry, cleaning and other purchases which make life more accessible for her. She also has to provide items to homehelps and PA’s to protect them in their work. These are not covered by their employers (latex gloves/aprons etc.) and the HSE have cut the amount that they provide. Claire says she can’t stand it when this government says that the primary payments have not been affected – everything else costs so much now.
- Claire’s rent has increased – waste and property tax charges have been levied on her. There is no waiver scheme for waste charges.
- Claire needed adaptations done to her bathroom but the local authority refused to fund them last year despite reports indicating that they needed to be done. She has been told she might get the work done this year. Also her front door opener stopped working and a replacement order took months to be approved – this restricted Claire’s freedom of movement and happened at the same time her home help hours were cut.
- Claire’s wheelchair has broken a number of times in the last 18 months. She has had her chair for nearly 5 years and hopes an application will be made for a new chair. However there have been huge cuts to the aids and appliances budgets in the HSE. The manual chair (which Claire got without asking for it – as a health and safety measure) is no use to Claire as she cannot propel herself in it.
- Claire also mentioned the constant reapplying and reviewing for everything. Her Disability Allowance reviewed, her medical card, each time something new is needed or needs fixing. New reports are needed, new letters from her doctor, forms need filling. Her disability is life long and permanent but the ‘systems’ don’t seem to understand this.
- Finally Claire and I have had a few conversations about mental health and the effect of all of this and the increasing isolation on her sense of worth and wellbeing. She notes that family members have pointed to the cuts as an excuse to say she should not be living alone or independently. When a big bill comes in she does not feel she can ask her siblings for help to pay it or to buy something she really needs now instead of waiting for it. Also she says she feels when going out and about she is less a part of society, not just that she goes out less often, but when she does that people don’t talk to her or ignore her more than they did before.
So when Minister Noonan, Burton, Howlin et al say yet again that ‘we all have to take the hit’ in the coming days as they explain away the budget , Claire and many other people with disabilities will again be reflected on being clobbered (Claire’s words) again and again and again and how it appears that the government says that the fiscal violence is deserved.
*Claire asked for her name to be changed and picked this name for herself after we had finished making the list.