Supporting and recognising carers in our society is, and has been, a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended.
Budget 2007 provided for new arrangements whereby people can receive a maximum payment equivalent to a half rate carers allowance while receiving another social welfare payment, other than jobseekers benefit or allowance. At present there are 41,539 people in receipt of carers allowance. Of these almost 14,256 are in receipt of half rate carer's allowance in addition to another social welfare payment. A further 2,260 people are in receipt of carer's benefit.
In June 2006 the number of hours for which a person can engage in employment, self-employment, education or training and still be considered to be providing full-time care for the purposes of carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant was increased from 10 to 15 hours per week.
From June 2005, the annual respite care grant was extended to all carers who are providing full-time care to a person who needs such care, regardless of their income. Approximately, 5,800 people who are not in receipt of carer's allowance or benefit have so far received a respite care grant in respect of 2008. A carer who is caring for two or more people is entitled to a full grant for each of the care recipients. The rate of the grant increased to €1,700 per year from June 2008.
I am satisfied that all of the improvements made to carers payments in recent years have helped more people with disabilities and older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.