Deputy Broughan has been consistently raising the issue of the long delays for parents in accessing an assessment of needs for their children, when required. Deputy Broughan has represented many constituents who have been concerned and upset at the lack of early intervention assessments. The HSE has a statutory obligation to complete Stage 1 of the assessment process within 3 months of receiving an application. Figures released recently to Deputy Broughan show that the average length of time to complete an assessment of need stood at 18.48 months in 2018 and that there were 3,611 overdue applications at the end of 2018.
Deputy Broughan has consistently been asking about the accessibility of public transport and plans for the improvement of this essential public service. Most recently, Deputy Broughan asked about the accessibility of Bus Éireann coaches operating on expressway and regional services for wheelchairs and the accessibility of bus stops in regional areas. The National Transport Authority (NTA) replied to the Deputy on March 28th and gave a very disappointing response.
Deputy Broughan recently asked the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, to report on the number of higher education access route (HEAR) places offered in universities and colleges here each year. According to AccessCollege.ie the “Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a college and university scheme that offers places on reduced points and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are resident in the Republic of Ireland. HEAR has been set up by a number of colleges and universities, as evidence shows that socio-economic disadvantage can have a negative effect on how well a student does at school and whether they go on to college.
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to comment on the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018. There are welcome features in the Bill, including the increased maternity, adoptive and paternity benefits; the increases and proportionate increases in social protection payments; and the measures to address the budget 2012 pension anomaly, to which my colleague has referred. In my pre-budget submission to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, which I entitled A Budget For All Our People, I asked for at least a general rise of €7 per week, which the Department costed for me at €485.94 million, which is nearly €500 million, among other general increases, some of which I will touch on later. It is regrettable that the increases provided for in the Bill will not take effect until March 2019. Households will be under extreme pressure during the Christmas and New Year period and the March provision, as in 2018, is simply to push necessary Exchequer expenditure into the future.
At the outset, I wish to acknowledge the sterling work and reports of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and the Parliamentary Budget Office during the year.
This budget was framed against a background of several challenges, such as the impact of a possible hard Brexit, trying keep an open border with the North, President Trump’s “America First” policy, our over-reliance on corporation tax from a small number of multinationals, the ongoing desperate housing crisis, health waiting lists and, of course, climate change and all the issues highlighted yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. The budget that has been presented is, at best, a type of holding exercise. It is a sadly familiar budget and is principally for the elites of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and their supporters in the property industry.
Today, Deputy Broughan handed in his pre-budget submission to the Department of Finance. In it he calls for increase in Social Protection payments, paying particular attention to measures that would assist in helping lone parents and children out of poverty; for an additional €1.25bn investment in Housing and significant investment in the areas of Health and Disability of €800m plus. Deputy Broughan also call for a clampdown on tax expenditures for the super-rich and for the postponement of the Rainy Day Fund, releasing an extra €500m for necessary personnel and infrastructure.
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak on the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2018. I thank the Oireachtas library and research service as usual for its fine analysis of the Bill and on its information on the key issues for carers.
It is a very short but important Bill. Throughout my career, I have tried to advocate as strongly as possible for carers and believe the tireless, unpaid work they do in large part still goes unnoticed and unappreciated by the State. Almost 20 years ago, when I was the social welfare spokesperson of the Labour Party, I published a paper entitled Caring for Our Carers, setting out a list of basic supports for carers which I believed at that time were very badly needed. Many of those supports still have not been delivered by successive Governments, including this one. One of the areas we covered at that time was the introduction of carer’s benefit which was a very tiny step forward.
I am grateful for the brief opportunity to comment on the summer economic statement. Last weekend there were reports that Fine Gael was trying out various general election slogans, such as Let Leo Lead On, based on the Seán Lemass slogan of the 1960s, but listening to the bluster and barefaced attempts this morning by the Taoiseach to rewrite history in response to Deputy Pearse Doherty’s question on this document, a more appropriate slogan might be You Just Can’t Believe Leo, or something more illiterate in that regard. The Taoiseach, of course, ignored his own vote for the blanket bank guarantee which wrecked our State finances and provided continuous support for savage cuts and austerity measures alongside Fianna Fáil since 2008. Shamefully, this included his own disastrous stint in the Department of Health.
I warmly welcome the ratification, at long last, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State referred to a number of important developments, including the national disability inclusion strategy and the 100 measurable and time-specific actions to deliver it. I wonder if he could report to the Dáil on what has been achieved. The Minister of State also referred to the living in the community and time to move on programmes, as well as personalised budgets, which are crucial initiatives that need massive funding support from the Government. I wonder what steps have been taken to achieve that also. For example, as a member of the budget oversight committee, I have with other Deputies expressed the view that the health and disability budget is at least €800 million to €1 billion short of what is needed to implement basic programmes. This is the Minister of State’s area of responsibility, as is the delivery of the UNCRPD.
The Labour Court recommendation of 20 November is very clear. It states “The Court has given careful consideration to the submissions of both parties and is clear that the worker’s pay is clearly aligned with the HSE pay scales.” The Irish Wheelchair Association was the key mover in the case. It could not be clearer but yet, as Deputy Barry noted, we are just a few days away from a work stoppage involving 7,500 workers in nine section 39 organisations. As the Minister knows, they provide services to some of the most vulnerable citizens in our community. It is outrageous that we have reached this stage.