By disability rights campaigner Dermot Devlin from My Way Access

The impact of Brexit and the impasse at Stormont is coming home to hurt those in our society that needs support the most. The European Social Fund (ESF) is coming to an end today (Friday, March 31). Without the funding, there will be considerable job loses, up to 1,700, and this will impact on the services which these organisations and charities provide.

Deaf, disabled and older people have been warning about this issue since the beginning of the Brexit debate all those years ago and now the time has arrived – nothing has been put in place by the UK Government to replace the lost of funding cause by us exiting the EU in 2020.

Pauline McSorley from ShopMobilty Omagh told me: “We are having the same difficulties as many other groups with the lack of clarification on funding for 2023/2024. This is down to Northern Ireland not having an active Assembly in Stormont, leaving the departments that fund us, no budget to work with.

From April-Dec 2022 we had a total of 2,353 scooter and wheelchair hires by our users with permanent/temporary disabilities and we listen and watch their confidence and independence grow from being able to independently “Get out and About”. What will this do to those who rely heavily on our service?”

Maeve Monaghan of the NOW Group said: “Disabled people are being being failed as UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is not making up for loss of ESF and more especially local departments aren’t offering any pre employment support. We have exceeded every target set over the past five years and have supported hundreds into paid jobs but when we look around there is no one there to show us how to keep this work going.”

Claire Meenehan from Include Youth said they offer extra to young people who feel excluded from society and help the disenfanchised to help them with education, mentoring and training support to find employment. Without ESF, this puts a real danger on what can be provided in the future.

Karen Gilgunn from Mencap NI told me: “It is devastating for our colleagues and service users that we are at this cliff edge situation and there has been no intervention to save this sector. People with a learning disability have the right to access employment and training opportunities, and contribute to our society. UKSPF, whilst promoted as a replacement fund, focuses on economic inactivity, therefore even if we are successful in securing funding it will not address the gap in providing supported employment for the most marginalised groups in our society. This has the potential to further socially isolate people and have a severe impact on their wellbeing.”

Rural Public Transport, like easiLink in the Omagh district, is the only form of transport many can afford or use. With this service potentially disappearing, it means shopping trips, hospital trips or social visits are lost with it. Disabled people don’t like the term “house bound”, but effectively that is what we will be.

Some funding has been made for one month, in April, but to date no word has been made available on amounts and what happens in May. Organisations are talking to NIO about the future, but little details is being made available. The Governments needs to hold serious talks to help alleviate the fears in our community. These services offer a lifeline to make deaf and disabled and older people in our community.

Sadly, some of the commentary from certain members of the public have left us feeling more alienated. On speaking out on this topic on social media, I was told “no one has a divine right to funding” and that we are “lazy to assume we are entitled to it”.

Brexit is affecting us all on the ground, and there is so much more. We need a functioning NI Assembly and Executive again.

People’s politics are no business of mine, but they are when they put people in poverty and remove much needed support and resources. Get back into Government and work out your concerns and difficulties there. Don’t hold everyone else to ransom.

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