Speech by Minister Simon Harris TD at the Launch of “Make Work Pay” Report

I am delighted to be here today at the launch of the “Make Work Pay” Report with my colleagues Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Minister of State Finian McGrath.

I share with my Ministerial colleagues and the other members of the Government, a very strong desire to ensure that people with disabilities are afforded every opportunity to realise their potential in every dimension of their lives.  People with a disability have the same wants and needs as the rest of society. They want to have as healthy a life as possible, to have meaningful social interaction, the chance to learn and the opportunity to contribute through employment.  Bringing people with disabilities into employment has huge benefits for everyone involved.

It is an opportunity to tap into the substantial talent pool available within the cohort of people with disabilities, and there are many positive effects from having a more diverse and socially representative workforce.  Today’s report is very much focused on addressing these important objectives.

There are a number of very important recommendations in that I am committed to pursuing.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that one of the greatest barriers to accessing employment is people’s fear of losing supports.  This may sometimes be a misplaced concern but nonetheless I fully understand the anxiety that  people with a disability and who hold a medical card may have about losing their medical card and that this can discourage them from entering the workforce or, even worse, cause them to want to opt out of  working altogether.

I am determined to address these concerns directly.  Today’s report commits my Department, the Department of Social Protection and the HSE to work together to ensure that people with a disability have all the information they require about their medical card, and its retention, at the point where they making a decision about current or future employment. We will ensure that this information is clear, concise, readily available and accessible to everyone who needs it.

One of the most significant elements of the report relates to the earnings disregard applied to people in receipt of Disability Allowance or Partial Capacity Benefit when it comes to assessing eligibility for a medical card.  I am committed to substantially raising the earnings disregard for people in this category and my Department and the HSE have already begun work on this.

As a first step, we need to confirm the number of people who would stand to benefit and also to determine the most appropriate earnings threshold to use. This should not be an extended process.  Once this analysis is complete, I look forward to announcing implementation plans within the coming months.

Raising the earnings level disregard will ensure that those with long-term disabling conditions who have modest earnings will still be eligible for a medical card and this will address what the report finds is the single most significant barrier for people with disabilities.

The Make Work Pay Report also recommends that the Medical Card Guidelines be amended to remove reference to employment having to be “of a rehabilitative nature’.  I have asked my Department to liaise with the HSE to implement this change without delay.

The report also notes the very real impact that having a medical card has on enabling people with a disability to maintain, upgrade or purchase necessary aids or appliances. My Department and the HSE will work closely with the Department of Justice, which will be examining this aspect of support for employment in the light of the report.

I would like to take this opportunity also to reassure people that the HSE’s assessment process for  medical cards has evolved over the last few years and now takes account of not just the applicant’s direct income but also other demands which their illness or disability may put on an individual’s overall income.

In conclusion, this Report is an important step in assisting people with a disability to take up, or retain employment.

I am firmly committed to improving the responsiveness and sensitivity of the medical card system to the needs of people with disabilities, to maximise their opportunity to take up and retain employment – something which can bring such a positive benefit to their lives and to society generally.

Make Work Pay Report