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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] They are very much removed from the reality of life for so many families who are struggling. Too often, the respite care grant is regarded as an optional extra for families. For those caring for elderly people or people with disabilities, it enables them to meet the additional costs of providing care such as higher heating bills and the cost of special foods needed. In many cases, it enables them to access the critical therapies required such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, all of which have been run down by the Government.

This is a hard-hearted cut and reprehensible. I do not see how anybody who promised the public that there would be fairness and owes his or her position here to the making of that promise can support a measure such as this. I urge Members who have any sense of decency to reject this proposal.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton A number of Deputies, including Deputies Denis Naughten and Brendan Ryan, have raised the issue of the quality of the available services. I know that this aspect is of most concern to carers. They have told me that when caring for an elderly person or a cancer sufferer, they do not necessarily need respite for themselves - although it is welcome - but for the person for whom they care.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett They have been cut also.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I did not interrupt the Deputy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett My apologies, but they have been cut also.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am talking about a vision for how we can provide for solidarity in society. If the Deputy has ever cared for someone who is very ill, elderly or in need of care, he will know, as Deputy Denis Naughten rightly described it, it is critical in his or her daily round of work for a carer to know with certainty that a respite place will be available for a definite period of time. This is probably the single most important reform needed in the system.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall That service is not available either.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Please allow the Minister to respond to the debate.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton When Deputy Róisín Shortall was in the Department of Health, she was extremely aware of this point which was discussed by the Select Sub-Committee on Social Protection. Every Deputy who has spoken regards it as a very serious issue. Some Deputies or their close family members have personal experience of this work and have described what I know to be the reality. The committee could examine the range of supports supplied. Some Deputies may not wish to hear what I am saying or take it into account, but the level of departmental expenditure this year to pay the weekly carer's payment, the weekly half-rate carer's payment and the respite care grant has increased by €20 million because we are paying more carers. I have provided for an increase in total expenditure next year on carers. In the clamour Members may not have appreciated how much was spent on carers. I concur with Deputy Catherine Murphy that no matter how much money is spent on direct income supports - I refer to the earlier discussion on child care - the services provided are a critical factor.

I refer to Deputy Denis Naughten's comment about the job to be undertaken by the committees of this House. Various committees should consider the supports available for children such as those provided in schools and the therapies to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred. They should also consider the important issue of respite care for the person receiving care. Some carers care for more than one adult or one child and they receive a double payment, which is a very important support for them. We should look at all of these factors. However, it must be borne in mind that citizens and taxpayers will be spending more than €20 billion on social welfare payments. Some have suggested there is a lack of solidarity in society, but they are mistaken. I suggest they compare social welfare payments here with those made in very wealthy countries. Our weekly social welfare payments are very high relative to those made in more well-off countries. What distinguishes Ireland from some of these wealthy countries is that our service provision is not as good.

My ministerial colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will address the issue raised by Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly of the salaries paid and payments made to workers in the public service as part of a structured discussion. I know many of those who work to provide the services on a professional basis, as opposed to carers who work at home, all my life. They work around the clock and are always available. Deputy Willie O'Dea will remember that the respite care grant was originally introduced to help carers to take a break on the premise that respite care was available for the person being cared for. I accept that the grant is used and spent in a variety of ways, usually for the benefit of the person being cared for. It is to be hoped carers will use it to take a break which would be very good for them. Deputy John Halligan spoke about his sister whose situation is typical and familiar to us all. She is helping to care for her parents at home and her dad is bedridden.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly and others referred to other ways to make savings in the social welfare budget.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett They are included in the amendments.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton However, there are requests for more money in every part of the social welfare budget. While the balance and proportions of expenditure and taxes can be varied, the troika has set expenditure ceilings. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly has professional experience, having worked with the World Bank and the IMF, and will know that in countries in which expenditure ceilings are part of the package, they are not as flexible as implied. Some variations are permitted, but total flexibility is not. In fairness to my ministerial colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, he has worked with the troika such that the budget reflects the proposed reduction in the pension ceiling - a change I have advocated for a long time.

I refer to Deputy Brendan Ryan's detailed proposal, about which I will speak to the Minister for Finance. It may be a matter for the finance committee and there is a job of work to be done. Given the collapse of the country, the position is difficult. We have to recover to enable us to have the social welfare system we all want.

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