I was forced to raise this issue as a result of a number of calls I received from distraught constituents at the weekend. The situation is totally unacceptable. A young man telephoned to tell me about his parents, an 80 year old man who cannot clothe himself and his 86 year old wife. They had five hours home care per week, one hour per day, but now that has been cut to two hours. What will people do if the home help is not available on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday when their families are not there? It is not realistic, sensible or constructive. Another person, who is a home help, wrote to me about the fact that her nine hours have been cut to three. The aged person she looks after has Alzheimer's disease and lives on her own. She does not know at times whether to get out of bed and she totally depends on her home help and on her neighbours. I spoke to the health board officials who were sympathetic. They said they would have to reconsider the issue. However, when I discussed the issue with them at length, I realised they would only consider it within the decimated budget for home helps and carers. They were not looking at the budget of administrators, but of those at the bottom of the ladder.
I do not make any apology for raising this issue in the House because this is where decisions are made. The Minister for Health and Children must provide an allocation if it cannot be found within the health board's budget. We cannot allow those who have given their lives to this country to be treated in this way. The people in the two cases I mentioned worked hard all their lives. They were not layabouts, but genuine family people. It is wrong that they are being treated in this way.
I have received several letters from people who are going into homes. One such letter states that all current subvention places are filled and that there is a waiting list in operation for subvention grants. It is difficult to understand how someone in desperate need of a home, who does not have any money or resources, could be put on a waiting list. Such people have been told their forms will be evaluated. However, if they try to fund their stay in a home, they are not entitled to a refund.
I also received a letter from a young woman who suffers from depression and who fell recently and injured herself. She wanted to get a taxi to attend a physiotherapy session. When she telephoned my office, my secretary contacted the relevant person. That person was nice to her, but she said there was no money left for taxis for people in need. How can that be possible in the month of February? What are we doing? The situation is desperate.
A number of people with intellectual disabilities have also written to me. They have been told that money has not been allocated to help them. I have received letters from people who are well off and from those who are not well off. A person with an intellectual disability is still suffering.
The most important letter I received came from a lady who looks after her Down's syndrome son. She stated that the level of civilisation of a society is often measured by the level of care accorded to its most vulnerable. While she welcomed the fact that successive Governments responded to pressure, she regretted the fact that it was necessary to take some cases to court. She gave the example of a person with a handicap having to leave at 7.30 a.m. to get to school because it takes two hours to travel 15 miles. That type of service for the disabled and the handicapped is not acceptable. As the parent of a young man with Down's syndrome, she is apprehensive about the present ruthless attitude of the Minister for Finance. She wants to know if the vulnerable will be expected to suffer again as a result of swingeing cutbacks or readjustments. She also wants to know if they, like the rest of us, will be asked to pay for the mismanagement of the country's finances. That is a plea from the heart.
I have received dozens of similar letters. Another example is that of a young man who wants help for his sister. This is an extremely important issue which must be dealt with.