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Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Some people with an intellectual disability are owed rebates by the State because they were improperly charged in the past.
The State which owes those rebates has told them they can pay the State the back-money they owe out of the rebates the State owes them! In effect the State is clawing back what it owes in the first place
I THOUGHT we had come a long way where people with an intellectual disability are concerned. I didn’t realise we have a Government that appears to want to punish them for being independent, that wants to make them pay, and pay through the nose. It is the most shameful and shaming act I could attribute to any government, let alone the Government of our rich country.
I didn’t believe this when I heard it first from the Inclusion Ireland Conference in Cork last weekend. No one could think like that, I thought. Typically, an adult with an intellectual disability who lives as independently as he or she can in a residential centre will receive the disability allowance as their primary or only source of income. It comes to the princely sum of €184 a week. Out of that, depending on their degree of independence, they will buy their own clothes, pay for outings, contribute to the household food bill, buy presents for their friends, socialise.
But they will never be rich. They will never own property. They will never have large insurance policies. Most of them will not have well-paid jobs, even though they can be brilliant, charming and loyal employees. People with an intellectual disability, if the truth be told, are poor. Among the poorest of our poor. And they are often vulnerable.
They’re even more vulnerable now because the Government that presided over the Special Olympic World Games has decided to bring in charges, to take away half of the income of people with an intellectual disability. And to add insult to injury, our Government is sending them bills looking for back-money — several thousands of euro in some cases.
If they live in a residential centre, on their own or with their friends and peers, the law has been changed to demand that they pay €90 a week for the privilege of living there. If the centre employs nursing staff, they can be charged everything they have except €35.
And these charges have been brought in with retrospective effect. Some people with intellectual disabilities and their families have now got letters telling them they owe their service providers several thousand euro in back money. They can pay it back in a lump sum or by instalment.
If this isn’t staggering enough, some people with an intellectual disability are owed rebates by the State because they were improperly charged in the past. The State which owes them those rebates has told them they can pay the State the back-money they owe out of the rebates the State owes them! In effect, the State is clawing back money from people with an intellectual disability out of what the State owes them in the first place. It’s hard to imagine anything more mean-spirited and petty.
Do you remember any debate about this, or any publicity? You won’t because it never happened.
And the people who have made this decision to attack the independence of people with an intellectual disability can’t be very proud of it because they have been doing it almost by stealth.
There was a debate, of course, about whether it would be fair to impose charges on elderly people who live in nursing homes. It was argued that many elderly people had decent pensions and owned valuable houses. And some people at least thought that it wasn’t unreasonable to expect them to make a contribution towards the cost of their care. So the law was changed to establish a proper legal basis for charges on old-age pensioners who live in nursing homes.
"Pension reprieve for nursing home residents to end", said one newspaper headline. "Deductions to pay for nursing care return", said another. Those were the headlines on news stories that appeared on the day Brian Cowen and Mary Harney signed the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 2005.
Those regulations were a pretty obscure document. They were never debated in the Dáil, nor their full meaning teased out anywhere. The day they were signed Mary Harney issued a press release announcing the fact. In it she said the regulations would "allow for the charging of people in receipt of in-patient services. The regulations reinstate charges for in-patient services and put them on a sound legal basis for the first time in 29 years".
She went on to say the "monies received by the HSE through the levying of these charges will continue to provide funding for the services being made available to older people, as well as those receiving support from the disability and mental health services".
The last five words of that quotation were the only clue we got that our Government intended to use the same regulations to impose charges on people with an intellectual disability — people without any property or decent pensions. Ms Harney, oddly enough, has never told a public meeting or a party conference or a TV interviewer about the application of these charges, and the back-money, to people with an intellectual disability. She was asked about it once in the Dáil, by Michael D Higgins, and she confirmed the regulations were in force and applied to people with an intellectual disability. Furthermore, she confirmed that they were going to be applied retrospectively. Up to €90 a week in some cases, and the entire income of the person apart from €35 pocket-money in others. And the back-money could be deducted from "any monies due under the repayment scheme where applicable".
THIS is the law. People with an intellectual disability who live in community settings are now to be charged about half their income for the privilege. People with more disabilities are to be charged more. Under the law of the land, they are being sent bills for thousands of euro in back-money.
The HSE is allowed, under a complicated scheme, to waive some or all of the charges for any individual who seeks a waiver after they have carried out a complete assessment of the individual’s means. I can tell the HSE now that they are individuals of no means whatsoever, apart from a very modest weekly allowance. Now they are to lose half that.
There was a time when people with an intellectual disability were stigmatised.
But nowadays we like to think we see people with an intellectual disability as just people. People with barriers to overcome, higher mountains to climb. We had the Special Olympics World Games when we celebrated their courage and determination. We congratulated them (mind you, we congratulated ourselves a bit, too).
We began to talk about rights and dignity. We sought to enable independence for them and to give them more choices in their lives.
And then someone somewhere in power decided that people with an intellectual disability should be made to pay for their independence.
I hope they’re proud of themselves.
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