I spoke earlier about the desirability of consolidating legislation into one Act, for everyone's ease and convenience, particularly consumers. Then I pointed out the anomalies which grow from that. I hope that the Minister would look at some of them, one of which is the fuel allowance, particularly for those living in sheltered accommodation. He can remedy that matter with approximately €50,000, as I explained to his officials afterwards. The second anomaly relates to credits for carers, particularly those self-employed S1 contributors. That is an extremely important point because the Minister must recognise that caring is an important area.
The Minister seems to have taken a greater interest in caring but we must support the Carers Association. Mr. Enda Egan, its chief executive, has made a forthright and comprehensive presentation on a national strategy for carers, whereby all aspects of caring are examined in the broadest way. It must be underpinned by the legislative provisions that exist in Northern Ireland and England.
I brought what I believe was a worthwhile Bill to that end before this House and it was not worthwhile just because it was introduced by the Opposition. Needs assessment in respect of caring is important. It is important to know the needs of the carer as well as those of the person being cared for, so that legislation is integrated. The Carers Association made a comprehensive and precise submission to the Committee on Social and Family Affairs in this regard. Change will not happen overnight, but we should make a good start.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs has focused on the issue of carers and it will not go off our agenda as long as I am around. We should acknowledge that in the past caring has been provided on the cheap by carers who have done a tremendous job for us. This recognition is what they want. The monetary compensation, some €150 odd, is only peanuts in the overall context for the 23,000 carers, only a few of whom get full carer's allowance. It is important we recognise fully the tremendous contribution they make, that we do not just utter platitudes but acknowledge carers through the necessary coherent strategy. The Minister should consider this.
People often come to our doorsteps expressing concern about widows and widowers under 66 years of age who are carers. For example, a person's partner often dies young — there was a funeral today of a young man 40 years old — and this leads to a reduction of up to 60% in income. This is a vulnerable time for the spouse who may be left at home with young children. We should examine the provision of a household benefits package for such people. When everything has been going well for a couple for some years and then in their mid or late 30s one partner dies and the other is left with young children, the surviving parent is very vulnerable. The wife may, for example, have been providing care to in-laws and have qualified for the carer's allowance. However, when she qualifies for the spouse's survivor pension, she loses the carer's allowance and no longer has her husband's full income. Her income is down by approximately two-thirds at this most vulnerable time. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs recommended a carefully thought-out strategy in this regard and suggested widows or widowers should get 50% of the appropriate pension in recognition of their situation.
The Minister has been doing some work with regard to the free travel concession for Irish people in Britain. There is a difficulty with this in the European Union context. We cannot be like ostriches, but must deal with reality. While the Minister is making an effort, he needs to accelerate his effort and formulate some policy to provide this concession for our emigrants. Deputies Stagg, Lynch and I, and other members of the Labour Party, visited emigrants in Britain last year. The Labour Party has done much work on this issue and was the first to introduce a debate in the House on the position and treatment of emigrants.
Our emigrants want something tangible. It is no use coming in here full of piety and platitudes acknowledging the €8 billion or €10 billion they sent over to keep us. Our emigrants were the real foundation stone before the European Union was around to give us money. They were the bulwark on whom we depended for our survival and free travel would be a small acknowledgement in return. In the context of this debate on the consolidation of a wide range of legislation it is important this concession is introduced soon. We must ensure it is.
My colleague, Deputy Stagg, has been very vocal on the importance of the extension of our television service into the homes of our emigrants in Britain. I was listening to a Ronan Collins programme recently and heard people ringing in from Britain. Many of our emigrants listen to Irish radio and it is an important contact point for them. RTE and the deflector system are issues for them. According to Deputy Stagg's information — this may test the will of people who may have turned somewhat greedy — it would only cost 15 cent a week extra on the licence to provide a service to Britain. Have we become so mean that we are not willing to pay that much extra on the licence to ensure our people in Britain get access to our television? Let us put the people to the test and explain to them the reason we want the extra money so that our emigrants get the opportunity to watch all-Ireland finals or whatever else they want. These people feel Irish and many of the programmes we do not bother about would mean much to them. If this is what is needed to ensure they are provided with a service, let us do it.
I acknowledge the Minister has tried to do something in the area of the one-parent family payment. This is a difficult but important area. Changing one base may mean people in normal relationships are being penalised. The two areas must be examined together. I will not try to convey the impression that this will be easy. It will not.