I refer to the point concerning carers. It is appalling that home care support will be cut as a result of the need to carry out the swine flu vaccination programme. I accept it must be done but the focus of cuts should not be on the most vulnerable in society.
Other Members may wish to clarify the position when they make a contribution in the debate but I have not encountered any individual who has successfully received the fair deal scheme under the nursing home package. To the best of my knowledge, all such applications are being shelved until the new year. It is clear that the focus of the Government is to get people out of their homes and into a nursing home bed. However, at the same time they are not prepared to process those applications.
I refer to another aspect of the carers' allowance. Some 64% of people with an intellectual disability live in their own home. We are aware of the challenges facing parents who must take care of a person with an intellectual disability on an ongoing basis, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. In my view the majority of such people should be canonised and should receive awards and recognition. Instead, we are cutting back the money they are due to receive. At the same time, they are saving the State approximately €70,000 per annum in the cost of residential care for a person with an intellectual disability.
I refer to the Christmas bonus because in her contribution the Minister air-brushed it out and made the point that we are dealing with only a 4.1% cut. However, at issue is a 6% cut in respect of the income people will receive as a result of the cuts that will be implemented before Christmas and the cut that will be implemented afterwards. On 27 October last year, the Minister stated:
Even with the challenging budgetary situation, the payment of this additional money to social welfare customers is a clear sign that helping those most in need of support remains the key priority for the Government. We all recognise that there are significant pressures for families and individuals around Christmas time, and this funding will go some way towards meeting their needs.
However, we will not give them a cent this Christmas. Christmas has been cancelled for many of those social welfare recipients and they are struggling to survive at the moment. They will have to turn to expensive money lenders and are likely to fall deeper into debt. There remains a difficulty in respect of debt collectors in this country the cause of which the Government has ignored time and again. It has not regulated this area.
I refer to social welfare fraud. I was disappointed with the announcement by the Minister yesterday that the target for next year is €83 million less than the 2009 target. Significant potential savings could be made in the area of fraud control and prevention. I accept the fraud controllers are busy processing claims and, as a result, they have been diverted from fraud prevention, as highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I put on record that the Minister's control unit is doing an excellent job under very difficult circumstances. Recently, I had dealings with the control unit in respect of a particular case and I was very impressed with the level of detail it had available. However, it was amazing that although such detail was available to a control unit for a considerable period, a particular case of fraud continued for five years. It is clear that if the resources are allocated to the control unit, based in Carrick-on-Shannon, it could carry out a good deal more work than at present. I accept that every inspector in the Department of Social and Family Affairs is conscious of fraud. However, a good deal more could be done and, as I remarked earlier this week, additional staff are available with a suitable skill set in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Meanwhile, four or five agricultural inspectors are landing out on a farm, trying to justify their existence. Surely, it would make more sense to second those staff to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and to get them to do what they are very good at doing, that is, going through and using the data available. The Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted the fact that in four or five cases of over-payment, the data are available to the Department already.
I am also disappointed that it has been disclosed this week that the integrated public service card will cost approximately €24 million to roll out. That represents very small money. Fraud is a significant issue. In the departmental targets set out for fraud in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the target is €1 billion. Surely, that falls short of the level of fraud taking place.