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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch] Our current budgetary challenges did not preclude the publication of a strategy, as a sign of the value that the Government places on carers and their contributions to loved ones on a daily basis.

It is worth considering who we mean when we talk about carers. There are a variety of definitions of "carer". Current definitions in Ireland stretch from that used in the census, which records people who "provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability", of which there were 187,030 according to Census 2011, to that used for the purposes of qualifying for a social welfare payment, which states that the carer must be "providing full-time care and attention to a person in need of such care". There are approximately 53,000 full-time carers receiving carer's allowance.

Whatever we call them, and however we define them, one thing we all share is that, at some stage in our lives, almost all of us will provide care for another person or receive care. Each Member will have some family member involved in caring. The issues surrounding carers and family care are relevant to every one of us and are socially and economically crucial to Ireland as a nation. When someone becomes a carer, their circumstances can change dramatically - often suddenly - and they can find it difficult to cope financially. Often, the person in need of care was the main wage earner in the family. The carer may be elderly and rely on a pension or other State benefit. Becoming a carer can have implications for all aspects of a person's life from taxation to transport, social welfare payments and accessing health services. Reflecting this, services and supports for carers are delivered by a variety of Departments and bodies.

The income supports carers receive from the Department of Social Protection are among the highest rates in Europe. Carer's allowance is the main social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit. Persons in receipt of carer's allowance also receive the annual respite care grant, the household benefits package and the free travel pass. The carer's allowance weekly payment was not affected by the budget.

Carer's benefit is a payment for people who have made social insurance contributions and who have recently left the workforce and are looking after somebody in need of full-time care and attention. Recipients can get carer's benefit for up to two years for each person being cared for. There are approximately 1,500 in receipt of carer's benefit. The carer's benefit weekly payment was not affected by the budget. For a child under 16 years requiring full-time care, a domiciliary care allowance of €309.50 per month may be paid to the parent or guardian. The payment is not means tested and is to provide for the additional costs involved in providing care and supervision that is substantially more than that normally needed by a child of the same age. The parents may also be in receipt of the carer's allowance. The domiciliary care allowance has not been affected by the budget.

In the majority of cases, persons who are being cared for are in receipt of a payment in their own right, such as a State pension or disability allowance, and entitled to a free travel pass. This includes anyone aged over 16 years who qualifies for disability allowance. In the case of a disabled child, they may also be receiving the domiciliary care allowance. The disability allowance has not been affected by the budget. People in receipt of a social welfare payment, other than carer's allowance or benefit, who are also providing someone with full-time care and attention, can retain their main welfare payment and receive a half-rate carer's allowance. Similarly, people currently in receipt of a carer's allowance, who may have an underlying eligibility for another social welfare payment, can transfer to that other payment and continue to receive up to a half rate carer's allowance. The half rate carer's allowance has not been affected by the budget.

The income disregard and means test for carer's allowance is the most generous in the social welfare system. A couple under 66 with two children, earning a joint annual income of up to €35,400 can qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance and such a couple earning €59,300 will still qualify for the minimum rate. Carers are entitled to an extra half rate carer's allowance if they care for more than one person and a respite care grant for each care recipient. These provisions have not been affected by the budget.

Most of the focus of the discussion in recent days has been on the respite care grant. We must remember that carers receive considerable supports. Only 5,000 carers receive only the respite care grant, which is not a means tested payment. The Government had to make very difficult decisions in the course of budget 2013 to protect core weekly payments such as pensions, disability and carer's allowance. We had to look very carefully at other additional payments such as the respite care grant. Let us take, as an example, a single parent with a disabled child in receipt of a half rate carer's allowance. They receive €319.80 per week in income support payments, including the one parent family payment of €188.00 and an increase of €29.80 for the child and the half rate carer's allowance, €102. From October to April each year, they may also receive the fuel allowance of €20 per week, which was not affected by the budget. They may also receive a €309.50 per month domiciliary care allowance for the child and are entitled to the respite care grant, a free travel pass and a household benefits package. The total annual value of all income supports in this case in 2012 is €23,606. I do not like such examples and other Members could find other examples.

The revised rate of the respite care grant, €1,375, is more than twice what it was in 2002, €635, and higher than it was in 2006 at the height of the economic boom, €1,200. The estimated expenditure on carers in the Department of Social Protection in 2012 is over €771 million, with €509 million on carer's allowance, €24 million on carer's benefit, €135 million on the respite care grant and €103 million on domiciliary care allowance. This represents an increase of almost €20 million on expenditure in 2011.

Carers also receive a free travel pass at an annual cost of €6 million and carers who reside with the care recipient are eligible for the household benefits package at an annual cost of approximately €30 million. The Government is committed to ensuring that, in addition to the necessary income supports, carers receive a comprehensive range of services to assist in the caring role.

Caring for a relative who has a disability, who is frail or who is chronically or terminally ill not only requires a wide range of skills, it also requires patience and an ability to empathise at times when they may be feeling vulnerable, stressed and frustrated. The role of carer, while it may be very rewarding, can be a 24 hour a day, seven day a week role and caring can extract a great emotional, physical or financial cost from the person providing care.

I refer to the services provided by the Department of Health and the Health Services Executive. Protecting the vulnerable, including supporting people to remain at home and in their communities for as long as possible, is a priority for the Government. Maximising health service community-based supports remains to the fore of the Government's health service agenda. This must be balanced against addressing evolving service and resource pressures and the challenges facing the HSE in drawing up its service plan for 2013. The challenge should not be underestimated. The overall provision of home support services is regularly reviewed at national and local levels, in the context of client need and resource availability. Notwithstanding the recently announced reductions for HSE home support provision over the later part of 2012, investment in these services remains significant, with expenditure of about €320 million expected for home help and home care packages this year. Details on home care provision for 2013 are being considered at present in the context of finalising the HSE service plan, which is due to be published in the near future. However, the Government has committed to restore the core community services of home help, home care packages and personal assistant hours to 2012 levels of service.

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