Hanafin’s bluff won’t disguise educational psychological services mess – Enright

51% of primary schools still not covered by NEPS
When will target for educational psychologists – set in 1999 – be met?

Olwyn Enright TD, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Education and Science has today (Thursday) said that Minister Mary Hanafin cannot bluff her way out of the current mess surrounding access to educational psychological services for children and young people.

‘Speaking on RTE Morning Ireland today, Minister Mary Hanafin stated that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are constantly expanding the services offered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). In many homes, this statement will have been greeted with a hollow laugh.

‘Between February 2005 and December 2006, the number of primary schools without access to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) increased by 160. Information released to me by the Department of Education and Science confirms that whilst 1,522 primary schools were not covered by NEPS in February 2005, this figure was up to 1,682 schools last month.

‘In her latest damage limitation exercise, the Minister has also announced the recruitment this year of an additional 31 educational psychologists. This means that by 2008 the target of 184 educational psychologists needed by NEPS – which was set in 1999 and should have been met by 2004 – will still be little more than a ‘noble aspiration’, an increasingly apt phrase when looking at this Government’s record in education.

‘With considerable understatement, Minister Hanafin did concede that not every school in the country was covered by NEPS – well, that’s one way of acknowledging that 51% of primary schools are still outside the system, eights years after it was first established.

‘Minister Hanafin is still just playing ‘catch-up’ on this issue, and has not even begun to consider the demands that are coming down the track for Ireland’s education system. Department of Education figures show that the number of children in primary education will increase by at least 58,000, but where is the planning now to ensure that these children will have access to a proper, working service by the time they are in the system?

‘Minister Hanafin also referred – repeatedly – to the scheme for commissioning private psychological assessments which is available to schools. She did not acknowledge, though she knows full well, that many schools have far more students who require assessment than they are allowed to commission privately. The scheme for commissioning private assessments is in no way an alternative to the full roll out of NEPS services.

‘Finally, Minister Hanafin seemed to suggest that the St Vincent de Paul charity were in some way misguided in spending their money commissioning psychological assessments for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The St Vincent de Paul can certainly speak for themselves, but given the facts – the appalling access to the service, the considerable regional imbalances in access to NEPS, and the restrictions on the number of private assessments that can be commissioned – I believe that the Minister is on thin ice here as well.’

Scandal that children rely on charity, not Govt, for psychological assessment – Enright

Additional allocation of €5 million for 2007 could have provided NEPS service to all schoolsFine Gael Education and Science Spokesperson Olwyn Enright TD has today (Wednesday) described the revelation that a charity has been forced to fund more than 1,000 psychological assessments for children in need as a new low for this Government.

‘Today’s report that the St Vincent de Paul charity has funded psychological assessments for more than 1,000 children and young people is the latest indication of the flawed commitment of this Government to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), and a new low for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

‘One of the key duties of Minister Mary Hanafin is to ensure that children with specific educational needs or difficulties, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to reach their potential within the education system. This is a duty that she has shirked since assuming office, and the consequences for children will be serious and long-felt.

‘When NEPS was established in 1999, a target of 184 psychologists working within the service was set. This target was supposed to have been met by 2004, when all schools were supposed to have access to NEPS. However, the Government is still short of this target by more than 50 posts. In actual fact, figures released to me in late 2006 showed that the number of primary schools covered by the service is actually in decline.

‘Between February 2005 and December 2006 the number of primary schools without access to NEPS has risen by 160. These schools have dropped off the NEPS radar due to the failure of this Government to live up to a promise made eight years ago. Today, 51% of primary schools in the State are not covered by NEPS.

‘An additional allocation of €5 million for 2007, on top of the amount set aside in the estimates last November, would have allowed for all schools to be covered by the NEPS service. The revelation that charitable organisations are now picking up the slack for this Government by commissioning and paying for private psychological assessments shows that this additional allocation should have been made.

‘This funding is needed now, as access to the psychological services provided by NEPS is vital for children and young people with special educational needs. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats should be ashamed to rely on charities to provide services to those who need them, and who are entitled to assistance from the State.’

This is typical of the FF/PD government, setting up programs with great fan fare and then underfunding them! When will they cop on. These are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, and they deserve all the hlep they can get. Thankfully in Ireland we have great charities live the SdVP who step in to fill the gap left by the government.

Come no Hanafin show your potential, and people say she will be the next leader of FF.

Poverty-reduction measures ‘fall short’

A LOT more could have been done in the Budget to make a real difference to the lives of Ireland’s poorest children and pensioners, campaign groups claimed last night.Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan said his €1.4 billion budget package — €300 million more than last year — was focused on eliminating child poverty and increasing pensioners’ incomes.

Mr Brennan said all child dependent allowance rates would be increased to a new maximum rate of €22 per child per week from January, and child benefit would be increased by €10 a month from April.

Mr Brennan said he was also delivering on the Government commitment to bring State pensions to €200 a week, with the contributory pension increasing to €209.30, an increase of 16 and the non-contributory pension increasing to €200, up €18.

St Vincent De Paul (SVP) said that while moves made by Mr Brennan to tackle poverty were welcome, it believes he could have done more to help the country’s poorest families.

“A more targeted approach could have been taken to assist those most in need, particularly those on social welfare and low paid employment,” said SVP vice president Prof John Monaghan.

Ireland’s largest children’s charity, Barnardos, welcomed the €10 increase in child benefit, along with the changes in child dependence allowance, but felt the minister could have gone further to make a real difference to the lives of 100,000 children living in consistent poverty.

“Overall, we would give this budget six out of 10, with the additional remark ‘could have done better’,” said Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

The national organisation for one-parent families, One Family, were disappointed with the dismal increase in the top-up payment targeted at those with children dependent on social welfare — it was the first such increase in 12 years.

“The nature of the increase means that children in one-parent families, who are the poorest family type, will only receive a paltry €2.70 increase in child dependent allowance (CDA) per week,” said One Family’s policy manager Candy Murphy.

Age Action said it was concerned that the Government had decided not to do more to help Ireland’s poorest pensioners at a time when the State’s coffers were bulging.

But Combat Poverty director Helen Johnston said measures they had recommended had been delivered on and believed the Government was moving in the right direction in terms of tackling child poverty.

Ms Johnston said Combat Poverty had calculated that the increases in CDA, child benefit and the 50% increase in the back to school clothing and footwear allowance meant that a child in a family in receipt of social welfare would get an additional €9 per week.

But SIPTU said the Budget would be seen as “miserly to mothers and children” because of the Government’s failure to adequately increase child benefit, extend it to all families or raise the amount paid to women on maternity leave.

Source: BudgetForum.com

Pressure groups give mixed reaction to Budget measures

Pressure groups working in a range of areas have given a mixed reaction to the Budget measures announced by Minister for Finance Brian Cowen yesterday.

The National Women’s Council and the One Family support group for single parents both say they are unhappy with the lack of measures to make childcare more affordable.

Elsewhere, groups representing the elderly say they are disappointed with the increase in the old-age pension.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul has welcomed the pension increases, but says it is unhappy with the €4 increase in the fuel allowance for older people and low-income families.

The housing organisation Threshold has said an increase of €30 per year in the tax allowance for people renting their home is derisory and insulting given the high rents across the country.

The Irish Patients Association has also criticised the 25% increase in the cost of staying in a public hospital bed, saying it will push up insurance premiums by 5% to 6%.

The Irish Farmers Association says changes to stamp duty on farm land and support for bio-fuel crop growers make this year’s Budget a positive one for its members.

The Irish Medical Organisation has welcomed the increase of 50c in the price of 20 cigarettes and the removal of cigarettes from the Consumer Price Index.

Elsewhere, business groups say they are worried that the significant increase in government spending runs the risk of fuelling inflation and the lack of measures to tackle energy costs.

However, they have welcomed provisions to encourage private investment in small businesses and changes in research and development tax credits.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, meanwhile, has welcomed moves to remove people on the minimum wage from the tax net, but says Mr Cowen should have done more to adjust tax credits and tax bands instead of reducing the higher rate of tax.

Tax experts say the changes that were introduced favour higher income earners and people on the average industrial wage will not be much better off as a result of the Budget.

Source: BudgetForum.com