Disability Action is the largest pan-disability organisation and charity in the UK and Ireland. We are a Disabled person’s led organisation (DPO) advocating for the rights of d/Deaf and Disabled people. We provide services which are developed for and by d/Deaf and Disabled people. These services include: employment support services, human rights and independent advocacy, campaigns, community integration and digital connectivity, transport, information and advice, mental health and wellbeing and disability specialist support.

Disability Action operates within the region of Northern Ireland but engages with Westminster and the UK Government on matters of relevance. Disability Action represents deaf people,

disabled people and organisations which extend across all disabilities.

Disability Action Northern Ireland delivers services developed for and by d/Deaf and Disabled people. Our above-mentioned services are designed by Disabled people for Disabled people.

1 in 4 people in Northern Ireland are disabled people. Disability Action represent the views of 335 organisations working to advance change for disabled people.

8 out of 10 disabled people report that transport is inaccessible to them

Disability Action are aware that the budget presented here, and the proposed cuts, come from a situation not of the Department’s making. We are aware that this is a challenging time. The absence of Ministers and the political institutions and the budget constraints place organisations and individuals at great risk.

Section 75 statutory duties are the key means available to public authorities to address inequalities and demonstrate measurable positive impact on the lives of people experiencing inequalities. The purpose of EQIAs in general is that the Department is obliged to consider and mitigate against impacts on protected groups. These Section 75 groups are listed in the first place because they are the groups most likely to be adversely impacted. The purpose is not merely to identify disproportionate impacts but to actively mitigate against them and ideally to seek opportunities to promote equality for these groups. Over time and in practice. The EQIA identifies multiple adverse impacts but does not present mitigations.

The proposed decisions within the EQIA should be considered in the context of the letter issued by Jayne Brady Head of the Civil Service on the 22nd of May 2023 which called for meeting with political parties to re-establish the institutions. In this letter Jayne Brady referred to a governance gap. The letter outlined that only Ministers could take major policy decisions. Within the letter Jayne Brady states the following the current political situation:

“leaves the accounting officer in the invidious position of having no lawful means to ensure full compliance with the duty to remain within budget limits".

The Department has a statutory duty to target resources on the basis of objective need under Section 28E of the 1998 Act. Justice Treacy’s judgment concluded that there is a statutory provision to allocate resources on the basis of objective need. Given the disproportionate impact of the proposed decisions on disabled people who are recognised as most of risk of poverty and deprivation. The proposals do not meet the statutory requirements of Section 28E.

This DfI EQIA document does not comprehensively consider the potential impacts of its 23/24 budget proposals on older and disabled people of all ages to access safe and accessible transport to meet their daily needs and specifically transport provided under the Disability Action Transport Scheme (DATS). DfI have failed in this EQIA to consider any mitigations or alternative policies in respect of DATS funding beyond 30/06/23. We have met with all NI political parties and have the support of all to maintain the DATS service at the very least to current levels. These are essential, accessible transport services for DATS users, and for many there would be no viable alternative to DATS provision in their local area.

All of this poses questions as to whether it is fit and proper that the budget cuts as proposed can proceed.

The EQIA published by DfI recognises that Older people are the main users of the grant funded Community Transport services in 2022-23, Dial-a-Lift (52%), the Disability Action Transport Scheme (46% of new members) and Shopmobility (47%), noting the importance of these services to older people.

The EQIA emphasises the impact on disabled people. Disability Action Transport Service provides a lifeline for disabled people and ensures access to essential services. The absence of these services will lead to increased isolation accompanied by declining physical and mental health.

“The impact on my transport accessibility is my primary source of transport to my day opportunities. If there was any reduction or ceasing of funding for the DATS service, this would severely impact on my opportunities to be included in my community, add to my barriers of inclusivity and would be detrimental to my physical and mental wellbeing.”

Disabled man aged 24-28.

In the last 10 years DATS has provided 973,000 trips in all areas of Northern Ireland to older people and disabled people of all ages to meet their daily needs to access; education, work, health appointments, essential shopping, health and wellbeing activities and socialising with friends, family and in their local communities.

“The DATS service gives me affordable transport, without it my costs would rise from £15 a week, to £40 a week. This would have a poor effect on my limited money.”

Disabled woman aged 16-24.

DATS funding was cut significantly in 2018 leading to reduction in provision from 112 to 60 hours per week. The reduction in provision has had a substantial adverse impact on older people and disabled peoples’ right to independent living and participation in society and daily life. The service has experienced a severe real terms cut in the context of the ongoing impact of the cost of living emergency and soaring energy costs. Rising costs have not to date been passed on to DATS service users. DATS currently faces significant financial pressures any reduction in budget would have a severe impact on provision. The cessation of services would be detrimental to the physical and mental health of disabled people who have experienced the most severe impacts of the cost of living crisis and the covid-19 pandemic. The cessation of services will lead to increased pressure on other public services particularly health and social care.

“Without DATS I would be trapped in my own home and unable to socialise. I live alone, with no family and can’t get in and out of a car so I depend on DATS. Loneliness is not good for anyone and can lead to death. I don’t want to die just yet.”

Disabled woman, aged 80+

Major potential impacts have been identified as a result of potential reductions to public transport and community transport. Older people, who normally make up approximately 20% of Metro passengers, 16% of NIR passengers and 13% of Ulsterbus passengers, and 57% of community transport users, require a service level to meet their normal daily needs which may include access to shops, friends and community facilities as well access to health and care services.

The reduction in the concessionary fares scheme would adversely impact disabled people and older people.

In addition, the EQIA notes that reductions to public transport would disproportionately impact on individuals with a disability as these are key users of these services. People with a disability are key users of the grant funded Community Transport services in 2022/23, and Shopmobility (100%). A key condition of membership of the Disability Action Transport Scheme is that an individual finds it difficult or

impossible to use mainstream public transport. This highlights the importance of these services to those aged over 60.

Disability Action conclude that the proposed budget reductions do not meet statutory provisions as outlined within Section 75 and 28E. Disability Action recommend that proposals are reconsidered, and mitigations provided. In particular Disability Action recommend that DATS services are prioritised and invested in with assurances regarding the sustainability of services.

For further information contact Nuala Toman, Head of Policy, Information, Communications and Advocacy, Disability Action at [email protected]