The Government acknowledges the crucial role that family carers play and is fully committed to supporting carers in that role. This commitment is recognised in both the Programme for Government and in the National Carers’ Strategy.
The main income supports to carers provided by my Department are Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant. Combined spending on all these payments to carers in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion.
A primary qualifying condition for the Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit payments is that the applicant provides full-time care and attention to a person in need of such care. The person being cared for must be so incapacitated as to require full-time care and attention and be likely to require this full-time care and attention for at least 12 months. However, in order to support a carer’s continued attachment to the workforce and broader social inclusion, carers may engage in some limited employment, education or training, while still being regarded as being in a position to provide full-time care. The maximum period in which a person may engage in employment, education and training is 18.5 hours per week and during this time, adequate provision must be made for the care of the relevant person. The full-time care and attention requirement and the 18.5-hour limitation are contained in the respective legislative provisions of the Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit and Carer’s Support Grant schemes.
As part of Budget 2020, the number of hours per week that carers could engage in employment, education or training outside the home was increased from 15 to 18.5 hours per week. This measure was prioritised in response to carers and carer representative groups who found the previous number of 15 hours to be too restrictive, not only for work but for education and training purposes.
I consider the limit of 18.5 hours to represent a reasonable balance between meeting the care recipient's requirement for full-time care and the carer's need to maintain contact with the workforce. Any proposals for further changes to this condition would need to maintain this balance and would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context.
I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.