The recession has fallen hardest on those with disabilities. Blind and vision impaired people have suffered cuts in social protection, jobs and services. As conditions improve, it is crucial that blind and vision impaired people are not forgotten. The National League of the Blind of Ireland Trust, in consultation with its members believes the following measures should be included in the budget:
The European Blind Union estimates that blind and vision impaired people have on average one third higher living expenses than those with sight. This can be explained by many factors including the need to pay people to do jobs around the house. For this reason we believe the cuts to social protection payments such as the blind pension, disability allowance and the household benefits package (all of which have been cut in previous years) should be reversed, and the rates gradually increased over time to reflect the additional costs people face. The Blind Welfare Allowance is an important financial support; this payment should be increased in line with rising prices and the cost of disability.
Everyone should be employed, but for blind and vision impaired people, several barriers exist in joining the work force. Delays in software and equipment funding should be reduced, and where possible pre-approved so the person can have the supports they need before taking up work. When a blind or vision impaired person returns to work they can still experience financial difficulty if on minimum wage. This is due to earning more than the income limits for the medical card, blind welfare allowance, household benefits package and fuel allowance but not enough to meet all their needs. There are those who do not earn enough to benefit from the blind person’s tax credit, for example, those on part time work or low pay. A solution for this issue needs to be found, either as a refundable tax credit or a cost of disability payment for people with disabilities.
Education schemes such as JobBridge, Springboard and Momentum should be fully inclusive of people with disabilities and full supports should be provided.
Our members are at risk from fuel poverty, so it is important that the fuel allowance is increased to prevent this.
For older blind and vision impaired people home help services are very important to allow them to live independently. There is a clear economic argument to be made that a strong home help service with enough hours can keep people living independently in their homes rather than nursing homes, which would cost the state more. Cuts to home help hours must be reversed.