I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"recognises that the Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) scheme represents a very important support to people who live with and care for children with disability and notes that:
— the allowance is now in payment in respect of 26,000 children, an increase of over 2,000 since the Department of Social Protection took over responsibility for the
scheme from the Health Service Executive in April 2009;
— spending on the scheme and the Respite Care Grant, which is automatically paid to all recipients, has increased from €138 million to €145 million between 2010 and 2011; and expenditure on both in 2012 is expected to be in the region of €146 million;
— parents of children who receive the DCA also qualify for Carer's Allowance and the Household Benefits Package, subject to fulfilling certain criteria, and some 40% of those on the scheme receive these payments;
— those who receive the Carer's Allowance and Household Benefits Package, in addition to the DCA and Respite Care Grant, receive a total of €16,742 per annum
from the Department of Social Protection;
recognises the vital role played by spending on social welfare in enabling people to live with dignity and the importance of the DCA in supporting families with children who need substantial levels of care and attention;
notes that the DCA is now a statutory scheme as provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008. The medical criteria set out in the legislation requires that the child has a severe disability requiring continual or continuous care and attention substantially in excess of the care and attention normally required by a child of the same age and the disability is such that the child is likely to require full-time care and attention for at least 12 months;
acknowledges that the Department of Social Protection has in place an equitable standardised application and assessment process whereby all cases are examined and dealt with on an individual basis;
notes that the application process operated by the Department involves the submission of a detailed statement by the parent or guardian of the child, as well as a detailed statement by the child's own general practitioner and any other relevant evidence from qualified experts who have examined the child. This evidence is then assessed by designated Departmental Medical Assessors who have received training in the area of child disability;
notes that the DCA supports 24,000 families and some 26,000 children at a cost of €100 million per annum. This along with the Respite Care Grant payment amounting to €45 million in 2011, represents an increase in spending of some €7 million over 2010;
further recognises that:
— against the backdrop of significant reductions in expenditure on social protection that there have been no cuts in the level of spending on the DCA and that this scheme has been specifically protected from cuts by this Government and that it continues to be paid at the monthly rate of €309.50;
— reviews are paid at the monthly rate of €309.50;
— reviews are an integral part of all social welfare schemes and are necessary to ensure that payments continue to be made only to those who meet the qualifying conditions and acknowledges that there is a structured and fully functional review process for DCA cases in operation in the Department which includes parental and medical input; and
— all social welfare schemes have set conditions and that the receipt of DCA is a prerequisite for the receipt of Carer's Allowance, Respite Care Grant and the Household Benefits package where this is claimed in respect of care given to a child under 16 years old;
acknowledges the considerable steps that have been taken to improve communication with parents and notes the improvements that have been made in this regard resulting in:
— parents now being informed by the Department of Social Protection of the review date that will apply in their case when their claim is initially awarded; and
— parents also being afforded 60 days in which to obtain and return evidence following notification of review. This will address parent's concerns on the time frame allowed and will provide them with additional time to gather supporting documentation or medical reports they may wish to submit in advance of the review date;
acknowledges the significant steps that have been made to speed up the appeal process for all social welfare appeals and notes that the success rate on DCA appeals, at 46%, is broadly in line with that on other social welfare schemes;
affirms that copies of documents are made available to parents on request within a reasonable timeframe;
and further notes that:
— the Minister for Social Protection has instructed the Department of Social Protection to liaise with other relevant Departments, namely the Department of Health, the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, who have a role in providing supports and services to map the availability of services and to examine the scope for greater linkage and consistency in the assessment for such supports and services;
— the Government has established an Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare to examine and make recommendations on a number of issues around the operation and interaction of the tax and social protection system to address how employment disincentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes and that the Group is currently examining the area of disability;
— the Department of Social Protection will urgently undertake a policy review of the DCA in order to clarify its objectives, consider whether legislative change is required, and consider whether the current administrative and medical processes need further refinement in view of the outcome of this; and
— as part of this review, the Department will consider the question of the duration of review periods for the DCA, based on the medical condition of the children involved, whilst taking account of other priority demands on the medical resources of the Department."
I appreciate the contributions of all the Deputies who are concerned about this issue. The State pays the domiciliary care allowance, or DCA, to parents or guardians in recognition of what everybody who is a parent would acknowledge to be the absolutely heroic and selfless role parents play in raising children who experience some form of disability. As parents, that has been the experience of all of us, among people we know or from our relatives who have children with special needs. There is no disagreement in any part of the House in that regard.
I offer a brief overview of the scheme, its role and purpose. The domiciliary care allowance scheme represents a very important support to parents and guardians who live with and care for children with a disability. DCA was originally introduced in the early 1970s in recognition of the extra care and attention provided by parents of children with a severe disability, who are cared for in their own home - hence the name. Responsibility for the administration of the scheme remained with the health boards or the HSE until April 2009 although it had been planned to move it much earlier. When it transferred to the Department of Social Protection it was put on a statutory footing. It is important to remember that before this happened the way the scheme was administered varied from area to area throughout the country. The change was made following a review which happened during the Government of Fianna Fáil. The Department of Social Protection is the right home for the scheme given its role in providing income support. The community welfare service was also transferred to the Department following the same review.
Domiciliary care allowance is a monthly payment to the parent or guardian of a child who requires care and attention and-or supervision that is substantially in excess what another child of the same age would receive. The allowance is paid at the rate of €309.50 per month. This rate has been specifically protected by this Government from a reduction of any kind, against the backdrop of significant reductions in expenditure generally. The Department now pays DCA for 26,000 children. That is a net increase of 3,000 children since the Department took over responsibility for the scheme from the HSE in April 2009. Given their notion that the number of children being awarded the DCA has somehow or other been cut or reduced, I put it to Deputies that the figures are entirely different.
Spending on the scheme, and on the respite care grant which is automatically paid to all recipient parents, has increased from €138 million to €145 million between 2010 and 2011. Total expenditure on both payments in 2012 is expected to be in the region of €146 million. I emphasise there have been no cuts to this scheme, neither in the amount nor in the number of children and parents being awarded the DCA, which has gone up by many thousands. During the period from 1 April 2009 to 31 December 2011, a total of 13,552 applications were received from parents or guardians of children with a disability, with 6,298 children being awarded the allowance, amounting to 46% of all claims processed. I will go through the figures again for the Deputies. There are now 26,000 children in 24,000 families who are in receipt of this very important allowance. However, 6,298, or a quarter, of those have been awarded the allowance since it was transferred to the Department. Therefore, the suggestion that somehow or other officials or doctors in the Department of Social Protection are hostile in any way to the parents of children with a disability and are refusing to award the payments to parents is simply wrong. It may be that not everybody who has applied has received the award. I noted carefully that the Deputies who spoke on this almost invariably referenced the issue of children who are on the autism spectrum. I notice they did not mention any other area of disability, whether in respect of either a physical or an intellectual disability. Statements have been made in the House to the effect that there is an effort to stop people entering the scheme but, in fairness to the staff of the Department of Social Protection, the figures do not bear this out. On the contrary they show an increase.