Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Austin Deasy

Question:

109 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of parents caring for a severely disabled child at home who receive the carer's allowance; the numbers who received a respite care grant in 1999-2000 for this group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20284/00]

Dick Spring

Question:

110 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he has received a copy of the findings of a Western Health Board report on carers who have been caring for extended periods of ten years or more showing the high level of carers who are not entitled to claim carer's allowance; his views on whether they deserve some recognition by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20489/00]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

134 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the percentage of carers who currently receive a carer's allowance; the reason the number is so small relative to numbers caring; the plans, if any, he has to abolish the means test or increase the income disregard; the number of carers according to his Department's figures; the criteria for this figure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20266/00]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

153 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the amount it will cost to increase the amount of disregard from £150 to £250 for married couples and £75 to £125 for a single person for the purpose of means testing of carer's allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20250/00]

Willie Penrose

Question:

155 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his views on whether the recent report of the Western Health Board indicates that the number of carers is seriously underestimated by his Department; and if he will abolish the means test for carer's allowance. [20483/00]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

771 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans, if any, he has to improve the situation where senior citizens, who are caring for disabled offspring, are denied the carer's allowance in view of the fact that the means test is so stringent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20207/00]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

778 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs the number of parents caring for a severely disabled child at home who receive the carer's allowance; the numbers who received a respite care grant in 1999-2000 for this group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20310/00]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

788 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will review the income disregards in the carer's allowance. [20429/00]

Jack Wall

Question:

800 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans he has to re-assess the means test for applicants for carer's allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20543/00]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

809 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will favourably consider extending the availability of the carer's allowance in the context of the forthcoming Estimates and budget to cater for the greater needs of the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20738/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109, 110, 134, 153, 155, 771, 778, 788, 800 and 809 together.

As part of the Government's commitment to carers, as set out in its Action Programme for the Millennium, an overall review of the carer's allowance was completed by an interdepartmental committee, chaired by my Department, and was published in October 1998. Both the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Finance were represented on this committee.

The review of the carer's allowance noted that it is difficult to estimate the number of full-time carers in the country. While care groups have stated this figure to be around 120,000 carers, they have provided no supporting basis for this figure. The high number may be due to their definition of carer, whereby someone visiting or assisting an older person may consider themselves to be a carer.

In this regard, the study carried out by the Western Health Board, Informal Care in the Western Health Board: A study of carers, people receiving care and non-carers, indicates that assistance with mobility and personal care was provided by only a third of the carers in their survey while the vast majority of tasks undertaken by carers were related to domestic chores such as shopping, cooking and cleaning. It should also be noted that my Department officials, on receipt of the Western Health Board report, wrote to the authors and the Western Health Board raising concerns on various issues in the study and noting that the results of the survey in relation to the number of carers in receipt of carer's allowance may be misleading.

It must be borne in mind that the purpose of the carer's allowance is to support carers who are providing full-time care and attention for someone who is medically assessed as having a disability, such that they require, for at least 12 months: continuous supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with their normal personal needs; or continuous supervision in order to avoid danger to themselves.
Based on the research carried out in the review of the carer's allowance, the current number of full-time carers is estimated to be around 50,000 people, covering carers of older people and adults and children with disabilities. There are currently 16,127 carers in receipt of carer's allowance, of which almost 2,000 are caring for a child with a disability. All carers in receipt of carer's allowance, including those caring for a child with a disability, receive a respite care grant of £300 in June each year.
These figures show that 32% of full-time carers are in receipt of a carer's allowance payment, which is an increase of 75% in the number of carers in receipt of the allowance since this Government took office. This large increase is reflected in the expenditure on carer's allowance, which was £36.5 million in 1997 and is projected to be £78.3 million this year, representing an increase of 115%.
As with all other social assistance schemes, a means test in which the income of both the applicant and his/her partner is assessable is applied to the carer's allowance to ensure that limited resources are directed to those in greatest need. The means test has been eased significantly in the past few years, most notably with the introduction of disregards of income from employment and other sources. The effect of these changes means that a couple with two children could have a joint annual income of £9,152 and qualify for the maximum carer's allowance while a couple with up to £19,500 could still qualify for a minimum carer's allowance, and also receive an annual respite care grant and the free schemes.
It has been previously estimated that increasing the means disregards to £125 for a single person and £250 for a couple would increase the payment of approximately 2,200 existing carers at a cost of approximately £3.5 million. It is very difficult to estimate the number of additional carers who would qualify as income data are not available. However, additional costs in the region of £15 million would be incurred if an estimated additional 3,000 carers qualified leading to a total increase of £18.5 million approximately in overall expenditure.
The estimated cost of abolishing the means test and extending carer's allowance at existing levels to all full-time carers would be in the region of £179 million annually. If one were to cost this proposal using the number of carers estimated by the care groups, this figure would rise to £547 million annually.
The review of the carer's allowance noted that the allowance is an income support payment and not a payment for caring. It examined the means test and considered that it should be maintained as a way of targeting resources towards those who are most in need. There are a wide range of services required, including community care and respite care, to support carers in their caring role. It is doubtful if a payment to all carers, regardless of their income, could be considered to be the best use of resources. However, the position in regard to the means test will be kept under review.
The question of further improvements to the carer's allowance and for carers generally will be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of our key priorities in the care area, as set out
in the review of our action programme.