That Dáil Éireann:
— for too long family carers have been taken for granted and denied the supports that they and their loved ones need;
— family carers have been wrongly forced by Government after Government to fight for their children’s basic rights to education and vital therapeutic supports, and as the abhorrent practices uncovered by RTÉ Investigates demonstrated, the State does not fight fair;
— the failure of the Government to prioritise family carers in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme shows they have yet again been forgotten and forced to fight to ensure the wellbeing of their children and loved ones; and
— carers have been stretched to the limit over the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, providing increasing levels of care with less support or respite;
further notes that:
— the income supports in place for family carers are not adequate;
— the income disregard for Carer’s Allowance has remained the same rate for the last twelve years, sitting at €332.50 (€665 per couple), despite steady increases to average earnings and the cost of living in this time;
— the self-employed are currently deemed ineligible for Carer’s Benefit;
— many carers do not currently qualify for free general practitioner (GP) care;
— current waiting lists for counselling in Primary Care extend to over 10,000 persons in need of help;
— the closure of respite, day and overnight services has had a profound negative effect on the wellbeing of carers; and
— the inequitable treatment of carers in respect of transportation services to these vital supports are currently free in some Health Service Executive Community Healthcare Organisations areas, but not in others;
— the renewed commitment in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future to ‘review and update the National Carers’ Strategy’, and calls for immediate action to do so; and
— the limited Budget 2021 increase to the Carer’s Support Grant; and
calls on the Government to:
— prioritise family carers in the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out;
— work with family carers to deliver the services and supports that their loved ones need and immediately end the practice of compiling and storing secret dossiers on children using information gathered by health, education and social care professionals, shared without the express consent of their parents;
— relax the Carer’s Allowance means test, by raising the income disregard thresholds in order to increase eligibility and payments;
— further increase the annual Carer’s Support Grant;
— increase Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit in every budget over five years;
— establish a discretionary fund for Covid-19 utility debt to aid carers and people living with a disability struggling with heating and electricity costs;
— extend eligibility for Carer’s Benefit to the self-employed;
— extend an automatic GP visit card to all recipients of the Carer’s Support Grant;
— create an emergency talk therapy fund, to provide sessions with an accredited counsellor or therapist in the private system for carers on referral from a GP;
— ensure that family carers get the respite they need by building up respite capacity, including delivery of hours and overnights through a doubling of public expenditure;
— prioritise the full resumption of respite Day Services in the re-opening and implement the standardisation of the provision of free transport to and from these vital services; and
— update and publish the National Carers’ Strategy in 2021, with a dedicated budget and timeframe to ensure the implementation of all actions.
I am sharing time with a number of colleagues. I appeal to the Minister to support this motion and, more than that, to ensure all of the asks in it, which are supported by Family Carers Ireland and family carers, many of whom I have engaged with in recent weeks and months, are implemented and delivered. For too long, we have seen motions passed by this House, cynically in some cases by the Government, and then the Government not delivering or implementing, either in deed or in spirit, what has been proposed. That cannot happen in this case. The Minister must recognise the work carers do. He must send out a powerful message that they and the work they do are valued and they will be a priority for the Government in respect of income supports, the resumption of services and the vaccine roll-out.
The past year has been an exceptionally difficult one for family carers. They have been asked to do more with less. We should start by commending all family carers on the huge work they have done and the personal sacrifices they have made to ensure the people they look after get all the care and support they need.
The reality is that before the pandemic, the supports were already lacking and for far too long, family carers had been taken for granted and had been denied the supports that they and our loved ones need. After many promises over many years, the one thing I hear from family carers, time and again, having engaged with hundreds of them on Zoom calls and online in recent weeks, is that they do not feel valued, listened to or respected. They ask us to convey to the Minister in the strongest possible terms that now is the time to stand up for carers and to make sure that the income supports for them and for the people they look after, as well as all of the other justifiable demands that they have, are actioned by the Government. That falls to the Minister and to others in Government.
They feel that they have been wronged and treated with suspicion. We saw last week the exposure of the secret collection of data about vulnerable children and their families. I am talking about the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. It was about children with special needs, whose families were taking the State to court to ensure that their children got the access to services and the education they needed and deserved. The State collected graphic and sensitive data about those children, which has really horrified those people and their families, many of whom are carers. We will deal with that issue tomorrow but it is unacceptable. The Minister has to make sure, as Minister for Health, that that practice is stopped and that there is full open disclosure, and that those children and their families, some of whom are carers, are given full access to all of that information.
They also feel and it is a reality that they were excluded from being a priority in the vaccine roll-out. It is unacceptable that they were not recognised as a distinct cohort. What we saw from the Government yesterday was a clear admission of failure when it abandoned all of the allocation groups over the next weeks and months. It is an admission of failure and that its system was not fit for purpose. It simply was not able to roll out the vaccine in a fair and efficient way because it has not made the necessary investments. Childcare workers, teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, carers, members of the Garda and many more key workers, including those who work in supermarkets and in retail, who have been real heroes, will now be shafted because of the inability of the Government to get its act right. Family carers will also be sacrificed as part of that. It is unacceptable that key essential workers, including carers, are being abandoned because the Government has not made the necessary investments and has not got its act together.
There are many requests in this motion. My colleagues will deal with income supports and the need for real investment in the new National Carers' Strategy, as well as issues with respite and access to services. I appeal to the Minister to listen to what is being said, to engage with family carers, and to please put in place all the supports that they need to get them through what has been a difficult time up to now. When services are resumed, it cannot be on the basis of what went before but has to be on the basis of having properly resourced services and valuing the work that carers do.