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Care Services: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty] A major challenge for the future is how to enable people to balance care and their other responsibilities, including work. There is an urgent need to increase awareness among employers and the representative bodies of the contributions made by carers. Caring is an expression of care, respect and affection for another person and, as such, the true value of care, and the support provided by carers, cannot be fully, objectively quantified. I pay tribute to the invisible army of carers, who day in, day out sacrifice their lives to support their loved ones. They are special people and they deserve our support to ensure they feel valued and supported in managing their caring responsibilities with confidence and are empowered to have their own lives outside of the care they give.

Deputy Áine Collins: Information on Áine Collins Zoom on Áine Collins Every Deputy in this House recognises the huge contribution carers make to our society. They care for the most vulnerable in our society, and our society will ultimately be judged on how we care for the most vulnerable. Every Deputy in this House also recognises that apart from the social and humanitarian aspect of their work, carers contribute a great deal to the economy. The money spent on the carer's allowance and respite grants, and many other supports, provides huge savings to the Exchequer, compared to the real costs of hospitals and nursing home care.

Unfortunately, we live in very difficult financial times since the current crisis began, a crisis that bankrupted the State. Fianna Fáil originally cut carer's allowance from €220 per week to €204 per week, a cut of €850 per year per carer. This Government recognises the economic situation necessitated some cutbacks in every Department. The Government made a conscious decision that maintaining weekly rates at a guaranteed level was the most effective way to ensure all carers were fairly treated. We concentrated on maintaining the weekly allowance of €204 per week, which had previously been cut to that level by Fianna Fáil.

There was a substantial cut in the respite grant and I appreciate this will have a significant effect on some carers and their patients. I have no hesitation in saying there are people in our society who could badly do with a substantial increase in respite and carer's allowance. I am equally convinced there are certain people receiving respite grants who could manage well without them. Next year we must look at ways of dealing with this issue. Means testing is an obvious route but even in carers' payments, the payments should be increased or reduced depending not only on the means of the carers or their patients but also on the amount of care required by each person requiring care. The Exchequer money available could and should be better targeted, with much more help for those vulnerable people in dire circumstances and less for those with less serious conditions. Getting the resources available to the most vulnerable and maintaining the core payment was the best way to use resources this year.

Of course, any reduction is regrettable. Sinn Féin, which held the social welfare portfolio in Northern Ireland should know that administration only pays carers £58 per week, the equivalent of €72, compared to €204 per week in this jurisdiction, or €239 for carers over 66. In addition, carers in this State who are caring for two people will get €358.50 per week.

It amazes me Fianna Fáil has the audacity to speak on this motion. It was Fianna Fáil that reduced the carer's allowance from €220 per week to €204 per week, an annual loss of €850 per year per carer. Expenditure on carers has increased significantly in the past ten years. The estimated expenditure on carers in 2012 is over €771 million. There are more than 51,000 people receiving the carer's allowance and 22,000 of them getting a half rate allowance in addition to another social welfare payment at an annual cost of €90 million. As a result, expenditure on the carer's allowance scheme has increased in the past ten years by 220%.

This is not about political point scoring. Most people in this House regret any reductions that affect the vulnerable. As a Government, we must strive in coming years to ensure that whatever money is available is fairly targeted and spent properly. Some reassessments of claims must be carried out. This will inevitably lead to further reductions for some but will also allow the Minister to greatly increase allowances for those carers and patients in the most serious medical and financial need. We have a duty in government to use our scarce resources more efficiently and effectively to ensure substantial care for the most vulnerable in our society.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I congratulate Deputy Halligan on tabling this motion on behalf of the Technical Group. It is also timely this should be discussed after the debate on the cut in the respite care grant last week. The motion provides for supports, both in income and in other ways, that would recognise carers and would show clearly we as a society and as a State value them and the work they do.

It has been widely stated in the House the contribution carers make to the State but it is worth saying again. Carers save the State more than €4 billion annually and the expenditure of €771 million in support pales into insignificance when compared to this saving.

The Government amendment last night started off by crowing about the Government view that the financial supports provided in Ireland are far greater than elsewhere in Europe. Is that meant to be some great comfort for carers? The reason supports might be the highest in Europe is that successive Governments have refused to provide any services worth talking about for citizens in need of care. Governments have decided the easier option is to provide money to carers, rather than providing support for patients, and the reason for that is explained in the savings the State accrues from the care the carers provide.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, also stated the respite care grant is higher now than it was in 2002. That is really something to be proud of; ten years on, carers should be able to expect the grant would recognise the increased costs they face and the fact it goes to providing much needed resources for their loved one. It is telling that only 5,000 of the 76,000 people in receipt of the grant are not receiving another carer's payment. This shows the grant is an income support and should not have been cut in such a callous way.

The Minister of State said our budgetary challenges did not preclude the publication of a national carers' strategy. It is good to know the Government can still produce reports in these difficult times. The vision statement of the strategy is worth outlining in the House. It states carers will be recognised and respected as key care partners and they will be supported to maintain their own health and well-being and to care with confidence. It goes on to say they will be empowered to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.

Apart from the complete lack of any concrete commitments in the strategy that could be seen as clear deliverables, the vision statement itself shows the strategy will fail, and is failing, carers. There are not many carers in our society who feel recognised and respected. Where was the consultation with carers about their needs in the run up to this budget? The strategy states they will be supported to maintain their own health and well-being. How can that be squared with the cut to the respite care grant? Yesterday on the radio, I listened to a woman who returned from England to look after her mother who cannot get any support because of the habitual residence condition. They must both live on less than €200 per week. Surely this will affect their health and well-being, having to survive on so little and fight a bureaucracy that will not respond to their clear needs.

One of the national goals of the carers' strategy is to provide for the training needs of carers. The Minister of State really had to search to find this one. Clutching at straws, she had to go back to 2008 to find some evidence of support for training, citing the Dormant Accounts Fund allocation of €1.8 million for training. One group received €10,000 to train carers five years ago. How can the Minister of State even think about putting that into her contribution?

We were then treated to a lecture about how the markets determine our policy and that we must placate them to be able to borrow on them again. To imply this was done in response to the markets because the Government had no option but to do this is disingenuous in the extreme. As if the markets will look at how we support carers and decide on the viability of our economy on that basis. The only thing that matters to them is whether they will be repaid.

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