A disappointing Budget 2018 for the disabled

THE dust for Budget 2018 has finally settled. The one announcement I was anxiously waiting for didn’t materialise. There was no allocation to kick-start the Independent Living project that was announced in the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had proposed to establish seven new independent living centres to benefit 11,000 disabled people throughout the country by 2020 in his speech at the Dewan Rakyat on May 21, 2015. With no mention of how it is going to be funded in the past two budgets and this for the next year, I don’t see how the target can be achieved now.

Setting up an independent living centre is not merely opening an office and staffing it. Personnel have to be trained on the various roles as managers, peer counsellors, coordinators and personal assistants. Human resource development in these areas takes time and requires expertise and technical support from established independent living centres.

The core activity of an independent living centre is personal assistant service. Personal assistants are trained to support us in our activities of daily living. Without financial backing from the government to fund the salaries of personal assistants, it is neither viable nor sustainable. Similar services in other countries are all supported by the respective governments.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Human Care Association, the pioneer and leading independent living centre in Asia Pacific, were more than willing to support and fund the training of resource persons and managerial personnel in Tokyo, and personal assistants in Malaysia. Due to the lack of development plans and no allocation in next year’s budget to run the project, the collaboration had to be terminated.

The failure to capitalise on this offer of support is a great setback where the welfare of severely disabled persons is concerned. I was looking forward to utilising some of the services to increase my mobility and reduce my dependence on my wife for many of my personal tasks and activities.

The disappointment in those of us who have been working hard to get this project started for the past two years was apparent. Nevertheless, even without official funding, we have pledged to continue working within our own capacity to promote the philosophy and concept of independent living.

The budget is also lacking in allocation for disability-inclusive development across the board. There is nothing substantial for the enablement and empowerment of disabled people. RM100 million is allocated for the RM50 increase in welfare allowance for working or non-working disabled person and carers. This will apparently benefit about 163,000 individuals.

To put the figure into perspective, there are over four million disabled people in the country. The World Report on Disability also stated that 2 to 4 per cent of the world’s population experience significant difficulties in functioning. These are people who are living with severe impairments and require support. They should number between 640,000 and 1.28 million people in Malaysia.

Not every disabled person or carer is eligible for the RM50 increase in welfare allowance. For those of us who are not eligible, we have been asking for consideration in lightening our burden in the face of rising cost of living. The price of many essential equipment and supplies used by disabled people have risen steadily in the past few years. Catheters, urine bags, lubricants and diapers are not luxury items. We have to use them on a daily basis. We depend on them to maintain our health.

Although the 10 per cent sales and service tax on these items were replaced by the 6 per cent GST, which should have made them cheaper, our weak currency has made it more expensive as they are mostly imported. We are paying 30 per cent more on the average for these items now as compared to three years ago.

Likewise, assistive devices like wheelchairs and artificial limbs are exempted from GST. To get the exemption, disabled persons or representatives have to go to the Welfare Department to fill in two forms and then present the form to appointed pharmacies or suppliers at the time of purchase.

This process requiring a form endorsed by the Welfare Department is tedious for those of us who have limited mobility. It could be easily eliminated by zero-rating assistive devices like how reading materials comprising all types of magazines and comics will be zero-rated beginning next year. I can’t understand why we have to be put through such a hassle.

Overall, there is nothing to cheer about in Budget 2018 where disabled people are concerned. The difficulties most of us have to endure in this trying economic times were not addressed at all.

It was a missed opportunity to make Malaysia more inclusive of disabled people. A lot more could have been done. I am disappointed. My peers are disappointed. If this is an election year budget, it certainly is not endearing to the over four million disabled people in the country.

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