NCBI calls on Government to tackle cost of living and support people who are blind or vision impaired through Budget 2023

Words Budget 2023 written using blocks.

Tuesday 21st June 2022, Ahead of tomorrow’s Department of Social Protection’s Social Inclusion Forum, NCBI has called upon Government to tackle the rising cost of living for people who are blind or vision impaired in Budget 2023.  The Cost of Disability Report was published in December 2021 and details the additional cost of living for people who are blind or vision impaired is between €10,997 to €13,609 per annum. The Government must develop a roadmap to address the additional costs faced by people with disabilities, informed by the Cost of Disability Report as a matter of urgency because we know that people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience poverty and deprivation than those without disabilities1.

The Free Travel Scheme is synonymous with independent living for many people living with sight loss and is an extremely important Scheme to them. However, there are currently 1,071 NCBI services users who are deemed ineligible to access the Free Travel Scheme even though their sight is significantly compromised, and they are unable to obtain a driver’s licence as a result of their low vision. To include them in the Free Travel Scheme would cost only €108,000.

June Tinsley, Head of Communications and Advocacy said “Government must act quickly to resolve the policy discrepancies that is leaving people living with sight loss in very difficult circumstances. The Cost of Disability Report shows that 19% of respondents who are blind or have a severe vision impairment could not afford costs associated with transport which is alarming given this group relies so heavily on public transport or private taxis. The inability to afford this can lead to further feelings of exclusion and isolation.”

Tackling the low employment rates for people living with sight loss must be a priority through the full implementation of the Government’s own Comprehensive Employment Strategy (CES). The current rate of employment for people living with sight loss is 24%, which is low by international standards.

Ms Tinsley added “The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth must commit to meaningful engagement with NCBI and other relevant bodies to ensure successful employment outcomes for people who are blind or vision impaired. Decisions about the implementation of the CES need to be informed by people with lived experience of sight loss and the people who work with them.”

Technology has advanced in recent years and is an invaluable aid to enable people with sight loss to experience more independence in their everyday lives. Smart phones, smart speakers and other assistive technology such as screen readers are all tools used by people who are blind or vision impaired to work, study, socialise and more.

Ms Tinsley continued “For many these devices are too expensive especially with 23% VAT rate applied when they’re already coping with the increased rates of inflation and cost of living.  Given so many people who are blind or vision impaired are solely reliant on social welfare entitlements, these devices are unobtainable even though they can increase someone’s independence. NCBI is calling on the Government to exempt these technologies from VAT which would alleviate some financial pressure for people who are blind or vision impaired at the point of purchase.”

The NCBI Pre-Budget Submission highlights a series of recommendations across Government Departments that would improve the lives of people who are blind or vision impaired in Ireland.