In budget 2020, we announced that recipients of carers' payments would be allowed to increase the number of hours they work, train, study or attend a training course outside of the house from 15 hours to 18.5 hours per week. This increase to 18.5 hours will accommodate increased participation by carers in the workforce or in training and will, it is to be hoped, strengthen their connection with the workforce and serve to ease them back into the workforce once their caring duties are over. As a result of that increase from 15 to 18.5 hours, we expect that some 1,200 additional family carers will now qualify for the payment. It is estimated that this will cost just under €12 million. Any carer currently working fewer than 18.5 hours a week can now avail of additional hours.
However, in deliberating on the measures for budget 2020, we did include an examination of the disregard for carer's allowance. In its pre-budget submission, Family Carers Ireland looked for an increase in the disregard for carer's allowance of €117.50 for a single person and €235 for a couple per week. My Department costed this proposal using the ESRI's SWITCH model and, allowing for income tax and working family payment offsets, the net cost was estimated to be some €55 million.
Changes to schemes were considered in an overall budgetary and policy context and from an evidence-based perspective. The Senator is aware we only had €130 million to spend this year in total, so we needed to make sure any money we spent hit the spots that needed it the most. When we looked at the people who were in receipt of carer's allowance, some 92% of current recipients have no means, so increasing the disregard would not have made any difference to them. The overwhelming majority of carers who can benefit from the change from 15 to 18.5 hours can do so with no impediment. The existing income disregard and means test for carer’s allowance is the most generous of any disregard within the social welfare system.
I sometimes find that when we have this conversation about the value of care, we talk about this as if it was a payment as opposed to an income support. We have to be grounded in the fact the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection supports people who have no other income. It does not make a payment for a service; we support people who have no other income. The weekly earnings disregard is €332.50 for a single person and €665 for a couple. At 18.5 hours work per week, this is equivalent to an income of €36 per hour worked in a two-person household and €18 per hour in a single-person household. This indicates there is significant scope for carers to increase their working hours without impacting their payments in any way. In fact, only 0.1% of current carer's allowance recipients have means of between €250 and €300 per week, so it is unlikely they will have any of their payments reduced as a result of increasing their hours, either in work or in training, from 15 to 18.5 hours. Carers who would benefit from an income disregard are those in higher income households. Given the need to target the available resources fairly and equitably to those people who are most in need, allowing an increase in the number of hours was the best use of the limited resources available.
With regard to the second amendment, the Senator may not be aware, although I hoped it was in the report I gave her, but we held a comprehensive policy review of carer's allowance. It was conducted by the Department over the previous 12 months and laid before the Houses on 28 August 2019, so it is a matter of record and it is with the Oireachtas joint committee. In addition, on 15 August, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also published a spending review of carer supports. Among its key findings was that of the €1.4 billion spent on carer support programmes in 2018, carer's allowance amounted to 77% of that overall expenditure. Given how little time has elapsed since those two reports on 15 August and 28 August last, there is genuinely little benefit in doing another exact same report, given it is the same period we would be looking back on as for the two reports that were laid before the Houses.
I assure Senators that I, as a member of the Government, and the whole of the Government are very aware of the key role that carers play, which is why I am so keen for us to have a conversation about the value of care, arising from the Citizens' Assembly that will start in January. Most of the times we have this conversation, either in this House or the Dáil, we talk about the value of care as if we were paying for care when, in fact, what the State does at present is support with an income support those who have no other income, and that does not include all of the people who are giving care. We need to have a national conversation about the value of care.