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Care Services: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] It makes no sense at all. The State must either provide direct support to carers to allow them to provide the necessary care or provide the services itself. As it stands, there is no adequate provision for either option.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I expect that some Government backbenchers, those in the Labour Party in particular, are hopeful that the deed was done last week in regard to the Social Welfare Bill. They took some flak regarding the Government's attacks on carers and the Labour Party ended up with one man overboard, but ultimately they probably feel they emerged relatively unscathed. The purpose of the motion before us tonight is to remind Members opposite that the issue is not resolved and we will not let it be forgotten. We will not forget the insult given by the hypocrisy of the likes of the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who went on the airwaves to say it was a choice between cutting the respite care grant and cutting the core carer's allowance payment. He tried to give the impression that Labour Party Members, after tossing and turning and grappling with their conscience, came down on the side, much against their wishes, of cutting the respite care grant. That is a complete and utter lie. Everybody knows this was not the only choice in town.

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy Deputy Daly has accused Labour Party Members of lying.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I will stand over it any time. The Government could have targeted the wealthy-----

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy On a point of order, Chair, the Deputy has accused my party of lying and has indicated she will stand over that claim.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall The Chair will deal with that. Deputy McCarthy should resume his seat.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I will explain it to Deputy McCarthy if he does not understand.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Will Deputy Daly withdraw the word "lie"?

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I am being asked to withdraw the word "lie" in reference to the claim that the choice was between a cut in the respite care grant and a cut in the carer's allowance. That is a lie. Those were not the only available choices. In fact, the choice was between targeting the wealthy, the corporations and the perks-----

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy The Deputy has not withdrawn the word "lie".

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Deputy Daly must withdraw the word "lie".

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The comment was untruthful.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly This Government chose not to tackle the wealthy, the corporations or their own perks. The notion that we should be grateful that core payments were not tackled is a disgrace and an insult. The respite care grant is the core payment to 20,000 families in this State and it has been attacked. As a consequence of the cut, their core income will have to be stretched to bear the cost of additional ESB charges arising from the cut in the units allowance, extra telephone charges and increased bus fares, general inflation and so on. The army of workers - that is exactly what they are - who care for loved ones 24 hours per day and 365 days per year in homes and communities will not let this issue go. They cannot afford to do so and they have nowhere else to go.

The Government has made a very serious mistake on this issue. We have all met the people protesting outside these gates, people who are under acute and intense pressure. I never encountered so many individuals involved in a single protest who were what I would describe as on the edge. I do not for a moment doubt the surveys which reveal that 38% of carers are completely overwhelmed by the lives they lead and the circumstances they are forced to endure, circumstances which have had a massive impact on their health. Many of the carers to whom we spoke last week asked us to swap places and live their life for one or two days, without any relief from their caring duties. I do not have time to relate the stories I heard. The illusion that carers are some type of modern day Florence Nightingales who work for the love of their family members and the politicians are the great ones who give them a few bob - and are they not lucky to be getting it? - is getting the thing entirely the wrong way around.

Deputy John Halligan is correct when he says this is modern day slavery. It is a crime that we are saving a fortune through the unpaid labour of hundreds of thousands of citizens in this State. The sweat off their backs is directly benefiting this State. What it comes down to is that carers are workers and should be treated as such. People have given up a lifetime of work because their loved one became ill and are now living the life of a pauper. They are entitled to proper wages and conditions. After all, it is an undeniable fact that the State benefits to the tune of €4 billion from their work. The Government has got it the wrong way around when it comes to care in the community. In addition to the cut in the respite care grant, home help hours which offer carers some relief for a couple of hours a day have been reduced. The Government is making carers ill and placing a huge drain on the economy. Carers are not vulnerable and weak; they are workers who are entitled to be paid accordingly. If we did that, we might appreciate them a little more.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace For most people, two measures in particular stand out from the recent budget, namely, the cut in the respite care grant and in child benefit. I was surprised by the Government's decision to proceed with these cuts, despite all the rumours in the media prior to the budget announcement. It seems clear to me that they were a bad idea both for those at the mercy of the cuts and from the perspective of the Government itself. If one actually wanted to increase child poverty in this country, one of the most proactive steps to take would be to reduce child benefit. It is a measure guaranteed to yield results, and an increase in child poverty is exactly what will happen as a consequence of the measure introduced in the budget.

Most people find it difficult to comprehend how the reduction in the respite care grant can be worth the saving of €26 million it will yield. It defies logic that the Government would go down this route. There has been endless talk from Members opposite since I came into this House about the importance of primary care. It is certainly the right way to go, particularly the philosophy of keeping people in their homes. This particular measure, however, flies in the face of that philosophy. Before becoming a Member of this House, I had not met many people working as carers in the home. Since then, I have been struck by how incredibly difficult a job it is. It is, moreover, a job which is vastly underrated and unappreciated by people in general, including by me before I met some of these individuals in person.

Apart from making their job more difficult, the cut in the respite care grant is an insult to carers because it detracts from the value of what they do. We should be taking the absolutely opposite approach. I would not like to have to endure the working conditions that are a feature of life for so many carers, irrespective of what I received for doing so. Instead of subjecting them to more hardship, we must give credit to those who sacrifice so many aspects of their life to undertake this role. I was taken aback by the evident hurt of the people I met outside Leinster House last week. It is not merely that their lives will be made even more difficult by this loss of income, but there is great hurt at the conviction that they are not appreciated for the work they do.

There were alternatives available to the Government in this budget. We are told that the corporation tax rate is sacrosanct and an increase would lead to a diversion of foreign direct investment. We are told that the tax relief on large pension funds must remain unchanged lest investment moves out of this country. It is not a good idea, we are warned, to impose a higher tax rate on incomes above €100,000 because this would have a negative impact on jobs and investment in the long term. Yet it is okay to reduce supports for carers and children. There is a lack of logic there. Poor households will have poor children. Do we have a responsibility to ensure children do not go hungry, that they have proper shoes and do not have to sleep in damp bedrooms? Do we in this House have a responsibility when we have made conditions so difficult for households that such deprivations are bound to arise?

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I thank Deputy John Halligan for bringing forward this excellent motion and my colleagues for sharing speaking time. The motion is deserving of support.

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