Tuesday 27 September 2016

Leo's tweet shows FG has not learned election lesson

The Government can't claim its policies are working if it still takes three years to get help

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin

There is nothing like an extended tour of the country to remind you why Fine Gael and Labour lost the election this year. That is where I have spent the past month, driving around 13 different counties mostly in the Midlands and west.

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Then you come back and it is as if nothing has changed. This is what Leo Varadkar tweeted last week: "2m people at work. Long-term unemployment under 100k. Return to net in-migration. Govt policies are working."

Leo was one of the geniuses behind the Fine Gael election campaign, who I called at the time the Maitre d', or the front-of-house man, the media darling who can do no wrong.

I wondered last week whether Leo had learned anything from the election. I would like to think he has, but that tweet made we wonder. Or has Fine Gael learned anything? Or is it still in 'let's keep the recovery going' mode?

The Budget will tell a lot.

Here is a little of what I discovered around the country, down home in Offaly, to be precise, and then over in Mayo and down around Limerick and Clare. A woman from a neighbouring village - Clonbollogue, noted as one of the tidiest in the country - has made an application for funding under the Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme for People with a Disability.

That is one of those grants you have probably never heard about, unless you have cause to need it. The grant is available where changes need to be made to a home to make it suitable for a person with a physical, sensory or intellectual disability or mental health difficulty to live in.

The grant can help you to adapt to your home - making it wheelchair-accessible, extending it to create more space, adding a ground-floor bathroom or toilet or a stair-lift. In some cases, the provision of heating can be included. So, you can imagine, the people in need of this grant are genuinely in need.

Anyway, this is what the neighbouring woman was told by Offaly County Council. I've seen the letter. When I read it first it sounded positive: "I wish to advise that this application has been given a Priority 1 Rating by our Occupational Therapist." Wow, I thought to myself - Priority 1 Rating. Sounds good. Let's keep the recovery going, like.

Then the next paragraph: "Due to the large number of applications on the waiting list and the reduced amount of funding available, the Council will not be in a position to process this application for a number of years. The average waiting time to process applications is three years approximately."

Three years! You think she is an isolated case? She's not. Another man in Edenderry got the same letter. Priority 1 Rating, three-year waiting list…

And another woman, also from Edenderry, made an application for funding under the Housing Aid for Older People Scheme. That's another, separate scheme you may not have heard of. It's used to improve the condition of an older person's home.

In general, it is aimed at people age 66 and older, that is, pensioners who are living in poor housing conditions.

The kind of work involved here is, say, structural repairs or improvements, such as dry-lining, in the case of extreme dampness, for example; or the repair or replacement of windows and doors, coming into winter and all; of the provision of water, sanitary services and heating or re-wiring, or even cleaning and painting work, or - a relatively new thing - Radon remediation work.

Anyway, here is what this woman was told: "I wish to advise that due to the limited amount of funding available under the scheme, Offaly County Council is not in a position to process your application in 2016. Your application will remain on a waiting list until funding becomes available which is likely to be 2017."

So, she is facing into a pretty cold winter then.

These are just random examples. I could go on. The issue of home care is also massive. This I picked up on in the west and south west.

The Home Care Package scheme is another one of those schemes, an administrative scheme operated by the HSE, which has had its budget slashed in recent years. It aims to help people who need medium-to-high caring support to continue to live at home independently. So you would think that would be a good idea, to keep those who need care in their own home.

The Home Care Package scheme is not established in law. It is is an administrative scheme, so you do not have an automatic right to it, or to avail of services under the scheme.

But just imagine how the proper funding of such a scheme would help alleviate pressure in the health service, by allowing the elderly return to their own home, which is what all concerned want.

Anyway, if there is one issue exercising the minds of people the length and breadth of the country then this is it. The issue of home care. Who'd have thought it? I certainly hadn't. Leo probably hadn't, even though he was the man in charge of the health service for a while there. Or maybe he had. Maybe it's just not a priority for him at the moment.

But it will be in this Budget. Mark my words: the Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme for People with a Disability; the Housing Aid for Older People Scheme and the Home Care Package. They may not sound very sexy, but they are critically important for hundreds of thousands of people around the country. Or the Primary School Transport scheme, which provides transport for children who live 3.2 km or more from their local school. That's another issue I've been hearing a lot about lately.

Most people who write about politics don't know, or scarcely know about these schemes and packages, but they are there, for people with real needs, who will face in to another winter, another year, and another three years with people like Leo Varadkar not tweeting very much about them.

Which is not to say that it is not great that two million people are now in some sort of employment, that long-term unemployment is under 100,000 and that more people are returning home or coming to the country for the first time than are emigrating.

But here is the message of the election for Leo and Fine Gael, in case they have forgotten: Government policies are not and will not work if an elderly woman in a pretty village in the Midlands has to wait another three years for the bit of help she desperately needs now.

Sunday Independent

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