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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 Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] The Minister of State referred in her speech to the budget being difficult. We all knew it would be difficult. Every political party in the Dáil agreed about the broad parameters. Fianna Fáil signed up to the memorandum of understanding and put forward our case before the last general election. We outlined the severity of the budgetary situation. No one needed to be informed of that; the difficulties we had were obvious. In respect of the choices that have been made since then, however, the one choice I was amazed was not made was to increase the universal social charge by a minimum of 3% for those earning more than €100,000, which would have given a lot of headroom to address the difficulties faced by the vulnerable in our society because of the social welfare cuts.

  The Minister of State referred to the deficit being 8.2% versus 8.6%. Even without increasing the USC for those earning in excess of €100,000, there was headroom built in because we were beyond our targets for meeting the critical 8.6% deficit target that is set out in the memorandum of understanding with the lenders of last resort. There was plenty of room to protect those in receipt of the respite care grant. For all the broad economic arguments being made about the lenders of last resort dictating terms, this was within our own resources, so it was available to us. The decisions that were made, however, were not made in accordance with the fundamental principle of fairness. Fairness is what is at issue. Can someone tell me how it is fairer not to increase taxes on a person earning more than €100,000 than it is to take €325 from those in receipt of the respite care grant? Most people in the Labour Party and most people in this House privately believe it is deeply unfair, to say the least.

  The Minister for Communications and Natural Resources referred to pirouetting on the plinth and people saying they had strong concerns about the attack on the respite care grant and other areas of social welfare such as child benefit, but this was a red line issue for the Labour Party before the election. It is no longer a red line issue and possibly there might be a further rolling back on commitments made prior to the election. Even in the context of the programme for Government, this is clearly a social welfare payment. It is very important to families who are put to the pin of their collar.

  The respite care grant, and the other mechanisms such as home help, special needs assistants and home care packages, serve to implement a policy to which all political parties and those in the health care industry subscribe, namely, moving people form acute hospitals into independent home care or at least a community care setting. This will achieve the opposite. It will force families to make a decision about continuing to care for a loved one in the home setting or putting that person into long-term care. That is contrary to all stated policy. The Carers Association reckons that carers save the State €4 billion per year. I am still at a loss as to how this proposal found its way into a budget that was supposed to be based on fairness, equality and the protection of the most vulnerable. Clearly, the Social Welfare Bill has stripped that away.

  I said to the Minister for Social Protection on the Social Welfare Bill that she makes great play of her claim that she is trying to protect the most vulnerable and that the Social Welfare Bill had achieved that. Any critical analysis which compares the cuts to the respite care grant and child benefit with the measures affecting those who are earning most clearly shows those who are bent over from working hard and supporting a loved one at home who needs care and attention are being abandoned by the Government. Those on €100,000 have not had their basic income cut any more than anyone else in the country in terms of PRSI contributions and cuts in child benefit. If anyone tells me this budget taxed the rich to give to the poor, he is simply not very good at basic mathematics.

  Let us be clear on the pronouncements of alea iacta est, the die is cast, but it is cast for carers by this Government that is clearly saying to those carers that they must cross the Rubicon on their own, they must paddle their own canoe because the Government is more interested in supporting the rich and those who can make it on their own. It gives them the breaks while making this mean, spiteful cut to the respite care grant. It is nothing other than a mean, spiteful cut and I know the Minister of State believes that, as does every Deputy in this House. For some reason of simple arithmetic, the Government looked at the figures and decided to take the €325 off the respite care grant and assumed everything else would be fine. There was an easier way and a fairer way to do this. Unfortunately on this occasion, Fine Gael got its way at Cabinet, the Labour Party surrendered and now the most vulnerable are paying. That is not good enough, and even at this late stage, this reprehensible cut should be reversed to ensure those who need it most get it.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch The Deputy is attentive.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The way the Minister of State was speaking, it sounded like the job from heaven that anyone would want to do. They are only getting what they are entitled to.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch Yes.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Does the Minister of State realise how much money carers save? The manner in which she portrayed it, it sounded as if they should be thankful for what they are getting but they are only getting what they are entitled to get. The carers in this country save us €4 billion per annum, five times what they cost the Department of Social Protection. The recipients of the carer's allowance are the only people who work for their social welfare payments. They often work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 90% of those in receipt of carer's allowance are family carers, doing it not for the money or the benefits the Minister of State outlined but for the love of that family member.

Those carers feel very let down. They feel their contribution is not being acknowledged by the Government.

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