I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"1.—The Minister shall within 6 months from after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the effect and operation of means tests overall in the social welfare system and in particular in relation to the carer's allowance.".
We cannot propose an amendment that would have a monetary impact and this is one way of ensuring that the issue is addressed. Carers are an extremely important issue for the Labour Party and one on which we have articulated a particular vision. The amendment concerns the means test. Too many schemes operated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs are subject to means testing. It is a complex and bureaucratic system. From a socio-economic viewpoint we do not want a regressive measure but the means test has been burdensome, cumbersome and bureaucratic and has been an impediment to the recognition of carers. There are between 148,000 and 150,000 carers and just under 25,000 now get carer's allowance but not all of them receive the full amount.
It would be churlish of me not to recognise what the Minister has done for carers and, on behalf of the Labour Party, I acknowledge that. He has made substantial progress in the area. Now, just a further €145 million or €150 million are needed to abolish the means test. I know the Minister is not ideologically opposed to that but wants to ensure the money does not go to multi-millionaires. Unfortunately many carers and those for whom they care are far from multi-millionaires. Those in that category should not even think about asking the State to provide for them. If I were in that category, I would not do so but would hope my own children would look after me if they had the wherewithal.
Many of the 150,000 carers provide care on a 24-hour basis, seven days per week and 52 weeks per year. I acknowledge the situation has been ameliorated by the Minister's introduction of respite care provisions, such as raising the limit to €1,200, and his widening of its scope so more than 30,000 will now receive the allowance. I would be less than honest and engaging in political pettiness of the worst order, which the House should avoid where possible, were I not to acknowledge what the Minister is trying to do.
On behalf of the Labour Party to which the universality principle is fundamental, I urge the Minister to recognise the need for a carer's strategy in which that principle could be encompassed or embedded. All units of the Labour Party feel strongly in this respect. A local councillor telephoned me last night and told me to tackle the issue. Every family in the State is affected by the carers issue and I am deeply committed to it. In its report on carers, the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, including its Government members, displayed deep commitment to this fundamental issue. I will not say when Government programmes will be negotiated but this matter will be on the clár and will not be removed. The State is saving billions of euro as a result of the unselfish and compassionate work of these people.
The carer often grows more ill than the person being cared for, or enters poorer circumstances because looking after the unfortunate person being cared for is strenuous work. This amendment would facilitate keeping people in their own homes, environments and localities, where they were born and bred, grew up, worked and are happiest. Members of the House were involved in a report of the National Economic and Social Forum under the chairmanship of Dr. Maureen Gaffney that indicated this is an important issue. The NESF also examined an area in Holland where the cost of the provision of services in the "wrap around" system, including chiropody and other services for the elderly, has dropped by up to 30% vis-à-vis putting people into institutional care. The clear outcome of the examination is that it is cheaper and more cost effective in the long term to keep people within their home environments.
At first glance the Minister may be surprised and say the amendment is the antithesis of what the Labour Party stands for. However, the universality principle is important to the Labour Party. Most carers are ordinary, working class people in receipt of other benefits. We spent much time speaking about accident and emergency units, beds and so on. This measure would free up many beds within hospitals, caring institutions and elsewhere and would be an effective mechanism. A measure to devote another €150 million to the carer's allowance would save the State between €600 million and €800 million. For this reason, the allowance is cost effective. A carer's strategy, which is important in this context, and a needs and assessment Bill have been called for. I would support that Bill on behalf of the Labour Party.
If it is good enough in Northern Ireland which has legislation underpinning the needs and assessment of carers and those being cared for, with statutory examination of circumstances, and at a time when the buzz words include North-South institutions and equality of treatment North and South, why can we not have such provision here? We should ensure this central issue is taken account of in relation to the carer's strategy. Therefore, I urge the Minister to examine this matter. I know he cannot do so today but perhaps he can over the next number of months. We should reach a consensus on the matter if possible.