Training allowance for students with a disability to be axed
Hundreds of young school leavers with a disability who take up training programmes this autumn are to have a special allowance axed, it has been confirmed.
The rehabilitative training (RT) allowance, worth €31.80 a week per student, will no longer be paid to new entrants.
It comes as the HSE is struggling with a deficit of €116m amid warnings by disability groups, which it funds, they may have to curtail services.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said that rehabilitative training is a life skills foundation programme funded by the HSE and is geared towards supporting adults with disabilities to develop a range of skills that will support them in developing independence and progressing to educational, vocational and mainstream services where possible.
The programme is designed to meet the needs of individuals and does not exceed a period of four years for any person.
Originally this allowance was aligned to the Solas vocational training allowance, but this has been discontinued for the last number of years.
"This decision will bring equity to all persons attending HSE-funded adult day services and will be in line with mainstream vocational training services," a spokeswoman said.
Adults who are currently attending programmes will continue to receive the allowance until they complete their programme.
"New entrants to training after September 1 will not receive the allowance. They will not be affected as they will never have received this allowance," she said.
She stressed that the allowance funding will in future be used to provide day services for people with an intellectual disability who are in need of that service.
The move has been met with dismay by workers involved in the sector who said it will automatically create a financial disparity between current and future students, as well as reducing much-needed money for a vulnerable group of individuals.
"Most of these students would of course be in receipt of the disability allowance but the concept of the training allowance is to permit them to access the community, leisure and social integration activities," said a source.
"The value of the allowance is €31.80 per student per week so the overall annual saving would seem quite small."
Representatives of organisations providing disability services to more than 40,000 adults and children across the country told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health that they are carrying a combined deficit of €30m.
They warned that the funding crisis in the sector has now reached a critical point, threatening the immediate future of the services they provide.
Some organisations are being loaned short-term funding by the HSE to keep services open, so serious is their funding crisis.
If these deficits are not addressed, boards of these organisations will be forced under company law to close, they added.
They cited the case of RehabCare, the largest independent voluntary service provider for people with disabilities, which told Health Minister Simon Harris that unless additional funding of €2m was provided, they would give notice of termination of services to 3,000 people using their services. The funding was later agreed.