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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 John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan] Carers must be embraced as equal partners in the provision of care at every level of public sector planning and service delivery, from designing a service to individual care planning. This is not currently the case. Carer induction training would significantly improve the plight of a family expected to cope with the challenge of caring at home for a loved one who has a stroke or experiences other severe problems.

Repeated studies have highlighted high levels of depression, stress and anxiety among the nation's carers, a significant percentage of whom are aged more than 70 years. Legislation providing for the phased introduction of free general practitioner, GP, care is due before the Oireachtas shortly, with the first phase providing for the extension of these services to persons with illnesses or disabilities, as promised in budget 2012. There is an onus on the Government to include full-time carers in the next phase of the roll-out of free general practitioner services.

I would say much more on this issue if I had time. I will conclude, however, by making an observation. Carers are human beings who need to be cherished and cared for by the State. No one else is in a position to do this. Carers are probably the most highly thought of group in the country and they are the most heroic workers in any service. I ask the Minister of State to consider carefully this pragmatic motion which is not in any sense controversial. We do not propose measures that would result in all hell breaking lose in terms of the budget figures. I ask the Minister of State to read the motion and show compassion and I urge the Government to move beyond political expediency and examine it on its merits.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I am very conscious of the thousands of people who are in need of or receiving care for reasons of age or because they have a physical or mental disability or both. I am also conscious of the thousands of people, the majority of whom are family members, who are providing this care. If all of these carers informed the Health Service Executive and Department of Social Protection that they were no longer willing to care for their loved ones, what would be the effect on the State? I do not believe it would be able to cope with such a scenario as both need and the costs to the State would increase massively. Furthermore, the State could not provide the type of dignified care that is given to those who need it. Such an eventuality would probably result in a return to the old Dickensian type of institution whose end we seek to achieve. Hospitals, which are already under strain, would be severely challenged. From a practical and purely economic point of view, carers are doing the State a major service and I dread to think of the costs and consequences if they decided they would no longer do so.

I acknowledge the first point Deputy John Halligan makes in his motion, namely, that carers make a vital contribution to society and generate major cost savings. The Deputy is doing the State, carers and those receiving care a great service by keeping the issue of care on the agenda. While the budget maintained the basic carer's allowance at its current level, the respite care grant was cut. In many cases, this grant is used not for respite but for basic care.

A close friend of mine has been battling motor neurone disease for five years. I am aware of the level of care provided by the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and local authority. I am also aware of the 24 hour care my friend receives from a family member, for which no amount of money could pay. A carer who is a family member will do much more than other people will do. Let us consider the three potential costs arising from this case. One has 24 hour nursing care, the cost of keeping someone in a nursing home and the cost of the care provided by a family member. It is clear that the latter is not only the most economical approach but is also the type of care that addresses the needs of the person with motor neurone disease who wishes to stay at home. The person to whom I refer availed of the grant scheme, which has had a positive effect in terms of adapting her house. For this reason, I also support that part of the motion.

I am aware of the case of a constituent, an amputee, who lives in a three bedroom local authority house and has been waiting for two and a half years for a grant for a downstairs extension to install a bedroom and shower. As her home is on three storeys, the installation of a stair lift is not feasible. Another constituent has been refused a carer's allowance to look after a 96 year old who wishes to stay at home. One must bear in mind what would be the outcome if the person in question were to move into a nursing home.

Investing in carers is an investment in community care and helps our communities by providing dignified and independent living and contributing to social inclusion. Demand for carers is increasing because people are living longer, including children with birth defects and those with illnesses who are benefiting from medical innovation. This trend will result in an increased need for carers.

The Irish Hospice Foundation and Alzheimer Society of Ireland released a report last Friday. While its primary focus was on palliative care, it also addressed the increasing numbers of people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The cut in the respite care grant will save the Government €26 million, yet €55 million was found for the greyhound and horse racing industries, both of which are lucrative.

In my short time as a Member of the House, I have felt deeply ashamed on a number of occasions. One such occasion was last summer when it emerged that children with intellectual disabilities would no longer receive services when they reached the age of 18 years. Another such occasion was when I joined people in wheelchairs at an all night protest against the decision to cut their personal assistants' hours. I was also ashamed to read recently about abuse of elderly people in residential care. I hope the Government will publish the standards and new system of inspections for the private and voluntary intellectual disability services sooner rather than later. I urge it to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as this would reaffirm the rights of people with disabilities to be treated as equals. Allied to this issue is care of carers.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I congratulate Deputy John Halligan on tabling the motion, which keeps the issue of carers and those for whom they care on the agenda. Yesterday, while preparing for this debate, I was struck by a report which highlighted the two very different worlds the Government has allowed to develop in this country. According to this report, sales of Prada handbags in a well-known Dublin store increased by 100% in the past year. This means people in this city can afford to pay €900 for a handbag. Sales of Chanel products in the same shop are going through the roof, Hermès products are performing strongly and sales of Céline handbags are on fire. The lowest price for a Hermès bag is €6,500. The famous Grace Kelly style is a popular seller and orders have been taken for crocodile bags costing between €35,000 and €42,000 because the shop in question has run out of these items. These brands are not being bought by lone parents, carers or low income mothers whose child benefit has been cut. I am speaking on behalf of thousands of people who must have their means and supports protected.

As Deputies are aware, 187,000 families provide an essential service to the State free of charge. It is estimated it would cost the State €4 billion per annum to provide this service. The cut in the respite care grant is mean and unnecessary. The Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, revealed yesterday that the budget for the Irish Presidency of the European Union will be €70 million. If the Government were to follow the example set by the Danish Government, it would cap the budget at €35 million, thereby achieving savings that would cover the cost of the cut in the respite care grant and leave €10 million for other purposes.

The cut in the respite care grant does not make economic sense. If only 280 families were to decide - perfectly understandably - that they could not take any more and ceased providing care to their family members, the cost to the State of providing institutional care for their loved ones would be between €600 and €1,000 per day. This would eliminate in one stroke the savings of €25 million the cut in the grant will purportedly achieve. Given that the respite care grant is the only payment given to 20,000 full-time carers, a cut of 20% is not modest, as the Minister for Communications, Energy and Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, claims.

The Government is continuing the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party. Since the budget of 2009, carers' incomes have declined by up to €64 per month. Cutbacks in State services have affected 82% of carers and 9,000 carers are on the waiting list for carer's allowance. This is three times more than when this Government, which claims repeatedly that it is protecting the vulnerable, took office. Half of applicants for the allowance wait for more than six months for their application to be processed and appeals take up to two years. The Government should accede to a call made by the Carers Association to introduce a form of amnesty under which applicants would be paid now and subject to a bureaucratic means test later.

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