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Carer's Support Grant

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 3 December 2020

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Questions (4)

Michael Lowry

Question:

4. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to enhance financial supports for persons in receipt of the carer’s support grant in view of the ongoing Covid-19 situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40462/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

I ask the Minister, in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the plans, if any, she has to increase financial supports for people in receipt of the carer's support grant. Despite her genuine efforts in budget 2021, it is not the case that all additional costs associated with the pandemic are covered by current rates of pay.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The main income supports to carers provided by my Department are carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit and the carer’s support grant. Combined spending on the above payments to carers in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion.

The carer’s support grant is an annual payment of €1,700 for each care recipient paid in a single lump sum with no requirement to satisfy a means test and it is not taxable. This is not available for any other group nor is there an equivalent payment for carers in any other country in Europe. The grant is paid automatically to people in receipt of carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit or domiciliary care allowance. Other people who are not in receipt of a social welfare payment but who are providing full-time care and attention are also eligible and can apply for a stand-alone grant.

Despite the substantial extra financial demands due to the Covid-19 crisis, I announced that the carer’s support grant would continue to be paid to carers this year at an estimated cost of more than €237 million. At the end of October, 115,845 carers had received the carer's support grant in respect of 128,610 care recipients. Applications for the 2020 grant can be submitted up until 31 December. Furthermore, as part of budget 2021, I announced an increase of €150 to this grant, bringing it from €1,700 to €1,850.

Any further improvements or additions to these supports can only be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of other pressures in social protection and other Departments and in the light of available financial resources. I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Family Carers Ireland is asking for the payment of the carer's support grant to be made in two instalments - €925 in the first instalment paid this month and the second one as normal in June 2021. As part of just transition measures, carer's allowance should be included as a qualifying payment for the fuel allowance. Family carers incur significantly higher and unavoidable energy bills due to their caring responsibilities and are among those most at risk of fuel poverty. Carers are also asking for clarification regarding the Government's previous commitment to expanding income limits for carer's allowance to ensure that those on the average industrial income would qualify.

The Minister is aware that disability services are curtailed or completely withdrawn since March and that respite care is virtually non-existent. Many healthcare staff have been redeployed to contact tracing. Against that background, carers feel that their future looks bleak. Family Carers Ireland look to the Minister and is appealing to her to ease the burden of pressure on carers.

The Deputy will understand that one of the key roles of my Department is that of income support. We are charged with identifying where a person has an income support need and providing that income support. Carer's benefit is a non-means-tested payment for up to two years. It is available to people who meet the specified social insurance contribution requirements. In addition, a person can continue to work for up to 18.5 hours per week and still receive a carer's payment. That was increased in the 2020 budget.

The system of social assistance supports provides payments based on an income need, with the means test playing the critical role in determining whether an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency, be that illness, disability, unemployment or caring.

The means test for these schemes ensures that resources are directed to those most in need. I acknowledge the significant role that family carers play in Irish society. I am fully committed to supporting them through the range of supports and services in my Department. It is important to say that the Department of Social Protection provides the income support and the Department of Health also has a role in the matter.

I agree the provision of family care at home is desirable for many reasons. It is also the preference of most people in need of care. This level of care comes at a cost. Many carers dedicate their lives to providing love, care and attention to those in need. This quality care enables people to remain in their own homes. Carers often provide this service at great personal sacrifice. They should not have to carry the burden of additional financial costs during this time. Family carers appreciate the €19 million secured through the increase in the annual carer support grant but unfortunately this vital cohort of workers reports that budget 2021 has not improved their net financial position. Budget 2021 was not about putting money in people's pockets but rather covering the additional outlay during the Covid pandemic. Family carers are now financially worse off as a result of the mounting pressures placed on them during the pandemic. Existing carer schemes are not broad enough to ensure that all family carers experiencing hardship are protected and provided for.

It is important to say that if those people who are caring and working lost their job due to the pandemic, they are entitled to get other payments such as the pandemic unemployment payment or the enhanced illness benefit if they are off sick. I know that many carers have sought the abolition of the means test. Removing the means test for carer's allowance would in effect create a new universal social protection scheme for those meeting the scheme's basic caring condition. Based on the total number of carers identified as part of census 2016, it has been estimated that a universal carer's payment could cost in excess of €1.2 billion per annum more than current spending. Increased expenditure on this scale would fundamentally change the nature of financial support and clearly reduce the scope to fund other critical schemes and services. I recognise that some carers carry a substantial responsibility and there is no doubt that it takes over their lives but this is something that has to be discussed with the Department of Health too.

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