I propose to take Questions Nos. 70, 89, 122, 125, 136, 139 and 210 together.
The provision of support to carers has been a priority objective of Government since 1997. Over that period we have significantly improved the position of carers through improvements each year in the scheme and this will continue to be a priority.
The report of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs makes a range of recommendations, many of which relate to my Department and a number of which concern the Department of Health and Children. I am always prepared to consider changes in existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. In this regard, the abolition of the means test for carer's allowance could cost in the region of €180 million. This is not feasible in present circumstances and, in any event, it is questionable whether it would be the best use of such resources in the light of other demands.
The committee also made recommendations on other policy and administrative matters which my officials are examining. As regards paying carer's allowance concurrently with another social welfare payment or introducing a "disregard" in respect of that payment, the primary objective of the system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one social welfare payment is payable to an individual. Persons qualifying for two social welfare payments always receive the higher payment to which they are entitled.
With regard to a national carers' database, the Central Statistics Office included a question in the 2002 census to identify the number of persons providing unpaid personal care for a friend or family member with a long term illness, health problem or disability. In March this year, the CSO published volume 10 of the census results pertaining to data on people with disabilities and carers. This is a comprehensive document with more than 40 tables of data relating to carers. I have no plans at present to compile further data on carers.
The analysis of this portion of the census found that some 40,500 people provide 43 hours or more unpaid personal help per week, or more than six hours per day; some 23,400 people provide 15-42 hours unpaid personal help per week, or between two and six hours per day; some 84,900 people provide between one and 14 hours unpaid personal help per week, or up to two hours per day.
There are currently approximately 22,000 carers in receipt of carer's allowance or carer's benefit. This means that more than 50 per cent of the 40,500 carers, as estimated by the CSO to be caring for more than six hours per day, are in receipt of a specific carer's payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. People providing lower levels of care in terms of time would not necessarily meet all the qualifying conditions for receipt of a carer's allowance.
Deputies will be aware that I launched a study last year on the future financing of long-term care. My Department is finalising the consultation document which aims to focus interested parties on the complex issues we need to address which include benefit, design, delivery, cost and financing which are discussed at length in the report. I intend to have the consultation document issued to all interested parties within a few weeks. A consultation process on the financing of long-term care will follow, the feedback from which will be the starting point for meeting the commitment in Sustaining Progress to examine the strategic policy cost and service delivery issues associated with the care of older people. I hope to establish a working group to conduct this examination in the middle of this year.