Following the 13th November town hall meeting, Deputy Editor Ilaria Riccio discusses the discontent surrounding the proposed Green Paper on disability rights - and what students can do to help their disabled peers.
On Monday November 13th, a town hall was held in the Red Room of UCD Student Centre to discuss the proposals included in the Green Paper Reform on disability rights.
Hosted by UCDSU Welfare Officer Jill Nelis and with the participation of Senator Tom Clonan, the town hall allowed attendees to learn about the proposed measures with regards to disability rights in Ireland, whilst also representing an opportunity to voice widespread discontent over the reform. Specifically, the meeting highlighted how the Green Paper would worsen the already precarious conditions of disabled people in Ireland.
The main proposal of the Green Paper is the replacement of the disability payments currently in place with a three-tiered system, whereby a different sum of money will be allocated to disabled people according to their capacity to contribute to the workforce. People with disabilities will be required to undergo a medical evaluation that would assess their capacity to work over a twenty-four month period, placing them in the most appropriate tier according to the outcome of the assessment. People who display a “moderate to high capacity to progress to work” (Tier 3) will receive a lower disability allowance, which will be compensated by their work income. Conversely, people assessed as having a “very low capacity to work” (Tier 1) will receive the maximum sum of disability allowance, which will represent their only source of economic support. Tier 2 will comprise disabled people who show “low to moderate capacity to work.”
People with disabilities will be required to undergo a medical evaluation that would assess their capacity to work over a twenty-four month period, placing them in the most appropriate tier according to the outcome of the assessment.
This emphasis on workforce participation stems from statistics that showed that Ireland registered the biggest gap in employment rates of disabled and able-bodied people (37% vs. 73% according to OECD data). Their impossibility to contribute to the workforce not only is seen as causing ostracism of disabled people in society, but it also puts them at higher risk of poverty. Importantly, the Department of Social Protection argues that the current system of welfare provisions - the disability allowance, the blind pension, and the invalidity pension - sustain disabled Irish citizens without devising strategies to promote their inclusion into the workforce - thus maintaining the aforementioned gap. Furthermore, the Department of Social Protection argues that the current welfare provisions are a “one-size-fits-all” type of economic support, as it is a homogenous payment for all those who receive it and, consequently, does not take into account the disparate and complex ways disability can manifest.
This emphasis on workforce participation stems from statistics that showed that Ireland registered the biggest gap in employment rates of disabled and able-bodied people (37% vs. 73% according to OECD data).
The proposed reform aims to tackle both these issues. Specifically, the Green Paper has two primary objectives: “to encourage a higher level of employment for people with disabilities, which will enhance their participation in society and reduce the risk of poverty and deprivation” and “to better insulate (protect) disabled people who cannot work from poverty and deprivation.”
As a Green Paper, the proposals are up for discussion; indeed, each section of the document includes a list of questions for readers to reflect on and come up with their own suggestions. Therefore, alongside opening a country-wide debate over the proposed reform, the Green Paper has allowed disabled people to voice their discontent over its content. It is in the context of this dissent that UCDSU Welfare Officer Jill Nelis organised the town hall: the meeting was an opportunity for Nelis to uncover the downsides of the Green Paper, and how it would negatively impact disabled people should it be approved.
Nelis emphasised how this reform would result in many disabled people experiencing drastic cuts to their disability allowance, especially people with “invisible” disabilities - that is, those that do not manifest physically. Furthermore, the medical evaluation would force some disabled people to work despite their conditions not fully allowing them to. This would happen because placement in one of the three tiers would be made based on a one-off assessment that is likely not reflective of how a person’s disability affects their capacity to work in the long run. Additionally, and in contrast to the claims of the Green Paper, Nelis highlighted how this reform would further homogenise the treatment of different disabilities by using the capacity to work as a framework to allocate economic support. Consequently, the reform would effectively worsen the living conditions of disabled people in Ireland by providing some people with a stipend that might not adequately cover their living costs.
The reform would effectively worsen the living conditions of disabled people in Ireland by providing some people with a stipend that might not adequately cover their living costs.
The negative repercussions of this reform also troubled Trinity Senator Tom Clonan. Speaking at the town hall, Senator Clonan stressed how “Ireland is one of the worst countries in the European Union to have a disability”, and the proposals of the Green Paper would exacerbate the situation. Senator Clonan revealed that a similar disability allowance system was introduced in the UK in 2008, which led to a surge in suicides amongst disabled people. Jill Nelis echoed this statement by emphasising that the medical evaluation required by the reform would put disabled people under additional stress.
Senator Clonan stressed how ‘Ireland is one of the worst countries in the European Union to have a disability’, and the proposals of the Green Paper would exacerbate the situation.
Inviting people to put forward their submission to change the Green Paper, Senator Clonan stated that “disability allowance should be a non-tested, universal allowance.” On its part, UCDSU acknowledges how this reform is “dividing an already severely disadvantaged minority which is reaffirming the lack of care which society is known to display towards this group.” Jill Nelis also invites able-bodied people to “identify and understand their privilege, and then act on it.”
UCDSU acknowledges how this reform is ‘dividing an already severely disadvantaged minority which is reaffirming the lack of care which society is known to display towards this group.’
That this reform is being circulated through a Green Paper represents an opportunity for people to voice their concerns over the reform and put forward their own suggestions. The deadline for submitting proposals to the Reform is Friday, 15th December 2023. UCDSU will submit its own pitch on behalf of the UCD student population, while Jill Nelis also encouraged people to spread awareness on the negative outcomes of the proposed reform for disability rights in Ireland. On his part, Senator Tom Clonan invites people to “protest and show solidarity with [their] disabled brothers and sisters.”