Monday 29 December 2014

Ice-bucket challenge is no substitute for government cash

Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30

People douse themselves in water for the ice-bucket challenge
People douse themselves in water for the ice-bucket challenge

The Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association is on course to raise over €1m from the ice bucket challenge but charities providing vital services shouldn't have to depend on social media trends to survive.

Last month, the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA) was left reeling when the Government slashed its funding by €90,000 overnight.

It, along with 25 other disability organisations, had their funding from one scheme wiped out, without notice, by the stroke of a pen.

The total figure, to fund all of these disparate groups - like the Irish Deaf Society and the Alzheimer's Society - was just €1.2m. The average grant was €43,000. It was deemed too much.

As devastated charities announced their imminent closure, Taoiseach Enda Kenny downplayed the cuts, saying an appeals process was available.

He seemed to be oblivious to the fact that there would be no money to operate frontline services while those appeals were considered.

He also failed to consider that the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, which faced extinction because of the cuts, was the only advocacy group for 700,000 people. That's a lot of voters.

Eventually, the penny dropped and the decision was reversed with another stroke of a pen.

Regrettably, the stress and worry inflicted on thousands of families by the callous withdrawal of funding is not as easy to revoke.

While grants have been restored, it is just a temporary 12-month measure. Nobody in government thinks long-term when it comes to disability services. The same crisis looms next year. The outlook isn't good.

The Government vehemently denies that it has preyed on disability services, in successive budgets, but the figures do not lie.

Since 2010, the Housing Adaptation Grant scheme has been cut by 42pc, the Capital Assistance Scheme, which is used to house people with disabilities, has been slashed from €145m to €50m and respite care grants were cut by 19pc in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Drugs Payment Scheme threshold has increased by 44pc since 2010, prescription charges are up 50pc while funding for access programmes for students with disabilities was cut by 20pc in universities in 2012.

The former government should not be left off the hook either. One of its last acts before leaving office was cutting the blind tax credit, the incapacitated child credit and the home carer credit by 10pc.

According to the Disability Federation of Ireland, cumulative cuts to HSE funding for disability services since 2008 amount to nearly 20pc.

So, what are charities to do? Try to convince people to continue dunking buckets of ice water over their heads for the foreseeable future, if the success of the latest social media craze is anything to go by.

The ice bucket challenge frenzy has become so manic that supermarkets have run out of ice.

In just one week, funding to the IMNDA has almost surpassed its entire annual budget.

The organisation can hardly believe its phoenix-like reversal in fortune but plans to donate 25pc of the money to Dr Orla Hardiman's MND research team in Trinity College in hope of a cure.

But while the fundraising has been fantastic, not least in raising awareness about MND, what happens when the social media set moves on?

Charities providing essential services, which the State declines to offer, should not be expected to rely on viral videos to keep the roofs over their heads.

At the very least, charities that people with disabilities, and debilitating illnesses, depend on should be able to count on a guaranteed minimum income stream each year without having to bow, beg, scrape, plead and cajole.

Instead, the State has outsourced its duty of care to hundreds of thousands of citizens and is 
happy for social media to pick up the bill.

Irish Independent

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