More special needs cuts is austerity gone too far

The measure of a country is how it looks after its most vulnerable. That might include the elderly, the homeless, those who are marginalised from society, and children. It also includes children and adults with special needs, and the latest Government cuts in teaching hours for special needs students is an appalling attack on a section of society who do not always have the voice to stand up for themselves. They rely on others to ensure their rights are protected, and when the guardians of our society, the Government, let the austerity axe fall on them, someone needs to shout stop.

The most frustrating part of all of this was the Tánaiste’s insistence in the Dáil yesterday that there were no cuts. But if a budget remains the same, yet there are more people using the service, with no additional allocation of funding, then that constitutes a cut in real terms.

The Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue was right when he told the Tánaiste if they applied the same logic to pensioners, with more pensioners for the same budget, nobody would agree it was anything but a cut. They would take to the streets and rightly so.

We are constantly being told we have to do more with less while stealth tax after stealth tax has been introduced.

And there are instances where Celtic Tiger standards needed to be reassessed. We didn’t need all the material needs we became accustomed to, or the multiple yearly foreign holidays. Or the designer labels and flash cars.

But when it comes to education there can be no compromise. That includes educating children and teenagers across the board, regardless of their ability.

We’ve already seen cuts to career guidance at second level, and of course there is the contentious Haddington Road agreement which will see cuts to teachers’ pay and yet despite the continued erosion of their pay and perks they are expected to deliver a top quality service with the same enthusiasm.

Now the Government are expecting special needs children to reach their educational goals but with less resources. But it doesn’t work like that.

How do you explain to any child, regardless of their needs, that their resources are being cut but they can still strive to reach their full potential? They can’t. They depend on that support. They haven’t the tools to self teach. An hour or half an hour less support per week will set them back. They can’t do more with less, as Independent MEP Marian Harkin pointed out this week.

It is outrageous really that in the lifetime of this Government resource hours for special needs children will be down 25 per cent. That includes a 10 per cent cut in June 2011 and a five per cent cut a year later.

It’s not just special needs children who will be affected, but the whole classroom environment. But ultimately it’s the development of the special needs children that will suffer.

This comes on the back of the cuts to the Domiciliary Care Allowance by the Minister for Social Protection meaning hundreds of children with intellectual disabilities have lost their payments under a “review” and “changes to criteria”.

Ballina TD Dara Calleary has launched a scathing attack on the Government and has vowed to oppose the cuts at every turn. He has accused the Government of undoing the good work of recent years and of damaging the education system. What good his protestations are remain to be seen but there is an onus on society as a whole to stand up for its most vulnerable if we are to live with a clear conscience.


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