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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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Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Hear, hear. Dead right.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I have seen it over the past 25 years and I know that two years or 18 months ago, people who were being refused now would have got it without any difficulty. They should be getting it and I want the Minister of State to address that point. There has been a political instruction to the Department to change the criteria for carer's allowance so it can be refused.

The delay in applications is another disgrace. I heard a case recently where it took 51 weeks to get a decision for a carer looking after a quadriplegic, wheelchair-bound child whose application should have been approved within six to eight weeks if right was right. The Minister of State should address that issue urgently.

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming Thousands of family carers are propping up Ireland's fragile health system, yet recent policy developments highlight the expanding role they will play in the future with fewer patients in our hospitals, shorter hospital stays and an increasing focus on community care. The contribution of family carers to the economy has been estimated to be worth in excess of €4 billion each year, yet the delivery of this highly valuable service to our older and vulnerable adults and children with special needs does not come without significant personal cost to carers. Research has consistently identified that carers are an at-risk group for negative well-being as they have higher than average rates of depression, chronic illness, injury and poverty due to the physical, emotional and financial demands of caring.

In census 2011, the statistics showed that in respect of health, disability and carers, 595,335 people, representing 13% of the total population, had one or more disabilities and 106,270 disabled people, representing 18% of all disabled persons, lived alone at the time of the census, which was April 2011. The census also showed that 187,112 persons, or 4.1% of the total population, provided unpaid assistance to others in 2011. These are very significant statistics as these people providing intermittent, casual care are not receiving remuneration from the State. Therefore, substantial savings are accruing to the State through the often unrecognised and invisible form of support. What these people provide and contribute is unrecognised.

Carers who are in receipt of social welfare protection payments and on call 24-7 have suffered an average cut in income support of 5% in the budget, which is more than twice the average cut in income support for other recipients of social protection payments. I believe this is working out at approximately 1.8%. The Government claims it has protected core payments for family carers in the budget, but the respite care grant is a core payment for family carers that allows them to buy home and residential respite care occasionally as well as meet everyday additional costs of caring in the home. As Deputy Healy remarked, an adjustment of the required €26 million to rescind the cut and return to the pre-budget situation works out at 0.14% of a budget of approximately €20 billion in total, so it is a minute amount. It is within the capacity of the Government to readjust the budget, right the wrong and enable and assist these families to give a quality of life to their loved ones and to get a reasonable break and rest time. Many of these carers are under extreme pressure and are vulnerable to negative elements in respect of their health and well-being. It is astounding that many of the carers whose applications are being refused for the carer's allowance may have to wait 12 months for their appeals to be heard, which is ridiculous. A total of 50% of refusals are overturned and carers eventually receive it after waiting 12 months.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy John Perry): Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry Listening to the various contributions to the debate, I was reminded once again how close to home the issue of carers is. Each individual carer mentioned represents the thousands of carers from every family in every parish in every corner of Ireland who receive no awards, often little recognition and sometimes not even the awareness of those for whom they care. People need help and support and this Government is committed to supporting family carers as much as we can.

The income supports that carers receive from the Department of Social Protection are among the highest rates in Europe and remain so after this budget. We had to reduce the respite care grant but the revised rate of the grant, at €1,375, will still be more than twice what it was in 2002, when it was €635, and higher than it was in 2006 at the height of the economic boom, when it was €1,200.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Fine Gael wanted more then.

Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry The other supports for carers - the carer's allowance, the carer's benefit, the half-rate carer's allowance, the domiciliary care allowance and the disability allowance - were all untouched by the budget. In very difficult circumstances over the past two years, this Government has had to make difficult decisions and reassess priorities. In the face of enormous economic pressures, the Government has chosen to continue supporting carers to the maximum extent possible. We have retained the half-rate carer's allowance, which I know is of great value to carers, both financially and in what it represents. We have retained the respite care grant, although at a reduced rate, including for people who do not otherwise qualify for other income supports. We have retained the principle of paying the grant in respect of each person being cared for.

This year, the expenditure on carers in the Department of Social Protection is in excess of €771 million: €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. The weekly carer's allowance payment is almost 20% higher this year than in 2006 and more than 147% higher than in 1997. We have approximately 55,000 carers in receipt of carer's allowance or benefit and 26,000 in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance.

A number of Members referred to delays in processing applications for carer's allowance. While I acknowledge that current processing times are unacceptable, measures are being taken to address the issue. At the end of November 2012, there were about 9,000 claims awaiting decision. Following the completion of a major IT modernisation project, an in-depth business process improvement project was completed for the carer's allowance scheme. This project focused on improving output and customer service and the reduction of backlogs. A total of 14 additional staff were assigned to assist with the backlog and the processing of new claims. Implementation of the plan commenced on Monday, 3 September 2012 and is being closely monitored and managed to ensure it achieves its objectives. A noted increase in the number of new claims processed has been achieved in recent months where claims processed have substantially exceeded claim intake. However, it will take a number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level.

The national carers strategy sets out a vision to work towards an ambitious set of national goals and objectives to guide policy development and service delivery so as to ensure carers feel valued and supported to manage their caring responsibilities with confidence and are empowered to have a life of their own outside of caring.

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