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 Header Item Post Office Closures (Continued)
 Header Item Carers: Motion [Private Members]

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan]  Deputy Pearse Doherty asked about a meeting with the Minister. I will relay that request for the Deputies from Donegal to meet the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on this issue. I note, however, that when post offices in my own area, like Tournafulla and Knockaderry, were closed people also asked if the Minister could intervene. They made representations to me at the time when I was councillor and Fine Gael was in opposition. We all know the reality that An Post is a commercial company with serious financial problems. It is on a path to trying to redress those problems.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is right, however. In support of the stakeholders, the Irish Postmasters Union, the service providers, the public, the Government and State agencies are working together. We have had this discussion in this Chamber before. One of An Post's greatest attributes is its ability to deliver parcels in future and to use the post office network to facilitate that. I am not a Minister of State in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment but I will relay the concerns raised to the Minister, Deputy Bruton.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Acting Chairman-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I am afraid that I cannot allow-----

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Just one point-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I cannot-----

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We are just asking for an extension to allow for an appeal.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Deputy knows the rules better than anyone.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I think it is fair. I was explaining my own previous engagement with post offices that have closed.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I am not interested.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan There is a provision for an appeals mechanism-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I am sorry, we must move on.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I think that it is fair-----

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty On a point of order-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy No, please. I am sorry-----

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty It is a valid point being raised by Deputy Gallagher. Will the Minister write to An Post-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I ask Deputy Pearse Doherty to resume his seat.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Deputy Gallagher specifically asked me to raise this matter with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and I will.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy All of the Deputies know that Topical Issues matters are set down here. We all agree on how they are handled. I ask the Deputies to not constantly break the rules. That applies to everybody.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Acting Chairman is no angel himself.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The Acting Chairman is a good man at that himself.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Deputy knows I am in a difficult place too.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan We will all use that in future.

Carers: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose I move:

That Dáil Éireann:
recalls that:
— Ireland has ratified both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);

— these UN Conventions place a duty on Ireland to ensure that children and adults with mental or physical disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate active participation in the community, including through the provision of facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health; and

— these UN Conventions also place a duty on Ireland to ensure assistance to the parents and caregivers for children and adults with disabilities, including assistance with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care;
recognises that:
— a Central Statistics Office study found that 10 per cent of the population are providing care to someone with a chronic condition or an infirmity due to old age, for an average of nearly 45 hours per week;

— an estimated 355,000 people in Ireland are carers, many of them caring for family members on an unpaid basis;

— over 13,000 carers are under the age of 25, including children involved in caregiving; and

— many people prefer to remain in their homes rather than move to a healthcare setting and this adds to their wellbeing;
acknowledges that:
— the work of carers is of inestimable value to Irish society;

— a financial estimate of the annual work of carers is €10 billion, which would otherwise be a cost to the public finances to provide a range of health and social care services;

— one in five carers receives Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit, and 119,975 carers received the Carer’s Support Grant in 2018; and

— an estimated 35,000 or more full-time carers do not qualify for Carer’s Allowance due to the means test, the income disregard for which has not increased since 2008;
further recognises that:
— caring for a loved one has a knock-on effect not only on people’s lives but also has consequences for their families and their other relationships;

— a great many carers are under stress, with significant increases in the numbers reporting poor health, including conditions such as depression and anxiety; and

— measures taken during the period of Ireland’s Economic Adjustment Programme now need to be re-examined to ensure that carers receive an appropriate level of support from the State, including additional support to cover the rising cost of living in recent years; and
calls on the Government to:
— develop a new National Carers Strategy, taking into account the implications of Ireland’s recent ratification of the UNCRPD, and with regard to the specific needs of minority populations;

— conduct a study of the income and living costs of carers, with a view to ensuring that income supports are sufficient to ensure all carers can meet the extra costs associated with caring and can attain a decent minimum standard of living for themselves;

— substantially reform the means test for Carer’s Allowance, with the long-term aim of its abolition, and as an interim measure in Budget 2020 to substantially increase the income disregard, extend the range of allowable deductions and increase the capital disregard in the means test;

— make the Carer’s Allowance exempt from income tax in line with other means tested welfare allowances;

— increase the hours a recipient of Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit can work or study from 15 to 18.5 hours per week;

— provide adequate funding to address waiting lists for homecare and home supports;

— provide community and voluntary organisations with increased funding so that people in every location have access to adequate services;

— replace the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant;

— increase funding to the Housing Adaptation Grant; and

— extend the GP visit card to carers in receipt of the Carer’s Support Grant.

I think that Deputy Brendan Ryan may be going to speak on this motion as well for about five minutes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy That is fine.

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose I am proud and greatly honoured to have the opportunity on behalf of the Labour Party to propose this important motion seeking basic improvements on behalf of family carers. It is well known that I have had a long-term career, for some 25 years or more, in advocacy for and on behalf of carers. My interest in this area is not new founded, it is something that long and well established.

In 2015, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, found that one person in ten was providing care to someone with an illness or disability. On that basis, about 355,000 people in the population are carers. Roughly one in ten people in Ireland are carers today and this will increase to one in five by 2030 given the ageing demographic. The 355,000 people could in fact be 375,000 based on the latest CSO population figures published some months ago. Every one of those people has a different story. The stories we heard at family carer events across Ireland were heart-rending and would move anybody. They are familiar stories. Any of us involved in the caring movement know exactly what is involved. People are looking after their elderly parents, an elderly uncle or aunt or after a child with a disability. I spoke to a woman from the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area this evening. Her story would move anyone. She is looking after a 28 year old child and is working extremely hard. She went back to work and is now going back onto the carer's allowance. She has a difficult job to get it.

There are also less well known stories. People are working full-time and then acting as a carer around the clock for a spouse who is at home due to illness or disability. Children under the age of 18 are taking on significant caring responsibilities for their parents. We know that tens of thousands of children and teenagers, as young as ten years old, are providing care in this situation. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, a colleague of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has been a great advocate in this area. Many people estimate that some 25,000 children and young people are in that situation. I believe that is a gross underestimate. There is talk now of an estimate of 56,000 young people providing care across Ireland.

People affected by disability or illness want to stay in their own homes. That is their most comfortable environment. A carer's allowance of €200 would assist in allowing that to happen, along with adequate respite care and home help. There is strong evidence that quality of life is improved and people live longer in their home environment. An immediate and achievable priority is to increase substantially the number of hours, homecare packages, and home help hours or alternatively, to establish the entitlement to secure the same outcome on a statutory framework. I acknowledge the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, in that regard. They are positive.

Carers do not want our sympathy or our pity. They also do not want to be put on a pedestal or canonised. They are just ordinary people struggling to care for their loved ones without the supports they so desperately need and deserve. Carers are people who have chosen to look after their loved ones and they do need help. They need practical help. Most importantly, what they often need is an acknowledgement of their role, which is often disregarded. That is what the State should be doing, that is how the State should intervene and that is what the State has to do better than it is doing. Carers need respite and training. Some need a downstairs bathroom at a critical time. Others require home help hours when those hours are needed and not when the system decides to grant them - if those people ever get the hours. That is, by hell, some system to try to navigate. It is no wonder that these people are at breaking point. Some carers just burn out and feel exhausted.

First and foremost, therefore, carers need financial support. Only one carer in five receives carer's allowance or carer's benefit. Those are the only payments in the social welfare system that I know of where it is necessary for people to work full time and still only get €16 more than if they sat at home resting on their hands. It is an invidious situation. Those payments are means-tested and the rules for the means test have not changed since 2008, despite the rising costs of living. People are being unfairly left without income support.

A major and cherished goal of mine and of the Labour Party has been our policy to try to abolish the means test. In 2003, I published a report entitled "Caring for The Carers". Our goal should be to abolish the means test but in the interim, I know we must face and deal with reality, such the impact of Brexit. In the interim, we should substantially increase the income disregard and the capital disregard. We should do that because when disability allowance is awarded, there is a cap on disregard of €50,000 but when carer's allowance is granted, the cap on disregard is €20,000. What is so different about carers? That difference is invidious and discriminatory.

I know this is not the area of responsibility of the Minister of State but I ask him to relay this situation to the Government. That is the simplest thing he could do today. I heard about another change today that we could make quickly. A special fund could be established tomorrow, in addition to homecare packages, for onset conditions. For example, stroke victims initially require a huge number of hours of caring but it is for a finite time. People get better. Some people are of the view, however, that the provision of a large-scale input of hours would be robbing other people. A special fund should be set up for that type of situation.

I ask the Minister of State to raise this issue at Cabinet. I believe there is a commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to review the disregard level and the means test. Nothing has been done, however. Abolishing the means test, according to the Government's own figures, would cost €1.2 billion. I got those figures last week. I know the money is not there now but in the long term, it would be money well spent. The return on that money would be absolutely phenomenal. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Secretary General of that the Department, Mr. Watt, would be delighted at the return on the investment. They are the people who seem to count.

Carer's allowance is the only means-tested welfare payment that is taxed. How is that fair? This payment should be made exempt from income tax in line with other means-tested payments. Making it subject to a tax is, in effect, adding insult to injury. The Government is taking 40%, or more, off of the top. That is madness. There are other supports that the State provides. People who are caring day in and day out need respite. This is a big issue. Those people are caring full time and only have a break when their siblings or children step in to take over for a few days. That puts a strain on the wider family.

Let us look at this from another perspective. There are plenty of people who work full time and who use up their holidays to provide relief care for their siblings or parents. This is just one example of how care work affects the lives of so many people in families. Some are struggling to earn a few bob to pay a mortgage and everything else. It is a major demand. The State can and should be doing much more to provide respite for the sake of the physical and mental health of the carers. We need to address the issue of training in a holistic way. Many carers are involved by themselves in manually lifting their loved ones in and out of beds on their own. As a barrister, I know that if someone else was doing a similar type of work, he or she would be breaching the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Whoever was responsible could be sued. These carers need help.

We need to revise and replace the old mobility allowance and motorised transport grant. That has been going on since 2013. As the saying goes down in Ballynacargy, a long churning makes bad butter. This is taking so long the butter must be rancid at this stage.


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