Budget 2015 a big let-down to disabled people


BUDGET 2015 is a disappointment where allocations for the betterment of disabled people are concerned.

The monthly allowance for employed disabled people will go up to RM350 from RM300. Unemployed disabled people will see the assistance increase from RM150 to RM200.

Only those earning a salary of less than RM1,200 are entitled to the allowance. Eligibility is based on the fulfilment of set criteria and evaluation by welfare officers. Likewise, the unemployed assistance is given out on a case-by-case basis.

A total of 110,000 disabled people out of the around 500,000 who are registered with the Welfare Department will benefit from the RM66 million allocated for this scheme.

In a nutshell, the RM50 increment is a small gain for the recipients. But looking at the big picture, we have gotten nothing as a community. The problems that we have to contend with every day remain unresolved.

The irony of these two financial aid schemes is that disabled people who are unemployed are getting less than those who are employed. Logic dictates that people who have no income will need more financial assistance but this is not the case with the current scheme.

How can anyone survive on RM200 a month? Without any other source of income, they will have to depend on the family or even resort to begging for subsistence. There is an urgent need to review the quantum of assistance rendered to reflect the reality of the situation.

The Prime Minister also announced the increase of tax relief for each disabled child from RM5,000 to RM6,000. The tax relief for the purchase of basic supporting equipment for taxpayer, spouse, children and parents who are disabled has been raised from RM5,000 to RM6,000.

For those of us who earn just a little above the threshold that disqualifies us from receiving the working allowance, the increased tax relief is meaningless as we will not be able to enjoy the deduction.

I was hoping against hope that the Prime Minister would make meaningful allocations to improve the lives of disabled people when I penned my Budget 2015 wish list in August. Unfortunately, nothing was apportioned to make the built environment, public transport system and mainstream education accessible.

The problems we faced last year and the years prior to that are still there. Is it because there is no political will to make society accessible and inclusive or is the Prime Minister ill-advised on matters regarding disability?

What is most perplexing is the increase in the annual grant for the National Council for Persons with Disabilities from RM500,000 to RM1 million in the Budget.

The Council was established under the Persons with Disabilities Act in August 2008 and tasked with 14 functions. Its responsibilities include overseeing, coordinating, monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the national policy and national plan of action related to disabled people.

Truth be told, six years after it was set up, I have absolutely no idea what the council has done for the development of disabled people in the country. I still have to struggle with the same problems of inaccessibility, an issue that has plagued disabled people for the longest time. How long more do we have to wait to see any significant change?

One of the issues that I felt the council had glaringly failed to address was the issuance of parking stickers. This responsibility was entrusted to the Road Transport Department (JPJ). The imposition of overly-stringent conditions made it tedious for applicants.

To add insult to injury, the stickers are only issued to vehicles with disabled drivers and not disabled passengers. This is effectively saying that the latter are not entitled to use accessible parking spaces. This is discriminatory.

There should not be a segregation of facilities in the spirit of justice and equality. To date, the council and JPJ have not made any concerted effort to reverse this ruling.

Therefore, I want to know the justification for the twofold increase in allocation. What does the council, which is mandated to meet at least three times a year, need so much money for since it has done a poor job in sorting out simple issues faced by disabled people?

To be fair, the government has made available a host of benefits for disabled people registered with the Welfare Department. Medical treatment is free of charge at all government hospitals. There are various types of financial aid business grants, assistive devices aid and educational allowances for students.

The list of these benefits can be obtained from the Welfare Department website. For the record, my disabled peers and I are grateful for the support. It has helped us tremendously.

Nevertheless, the fundamental issues of accessibility in the built environment and public transport system must be thoroughly dealt with in a comprehensive and holistic manner. This is the core of the problem that is preventing us from realising full participation.

The barriers prevent us from going to school and getting an education. Without academic qualifications, we have difficulty finding work. Without work, we have to depend on charity. Even if we can get work, we still have to deal with the formidable barriers. This is the story of our lives.

I am disappointed with the budget. I hope the Prime Minister will take us more seriously in the budgets that follow. The problems that trouble us cannot be solved by just giving us a token sum. He should give ear to alternative voices from the grassroots. Only then can he get a clearer picture and understand what needs to be done.

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