Carers: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recalls that:

— Ireland has ratified both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);

— these UN Conventions place a duty on Ireland to ensure that children and adults with mental or physical disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate active participation in the community, including through the provision of facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health; and

— these UN Conventions also place a duty on Ireland to ensure assistance to the parents and caregivers for children and adults with disabilities, including assistance with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care;

recognises that:

— a Central Statistics Office study found that 10 per cent of the population are providing care to someone with a chronic condition or an infirmity due to old age, for an average of nearly 45 hours per week;

— an estimated 355,000 people in Ireland are carers, many of them caring for family members on an unpaid basis;

— over 13,000 carers are under the age of 25, including children involved in caregiving; and

— many people prefer to remain in their homes rather than move to a healthcare setting and this adds to their wellbeing;

acknowledges that:

— the work of carers is of inestimable value to Irish society;

— a financial estimate of the annual work of carers is €10 billion, which would otherwise be a cost to the public finances to provide a range of health and social care services;

— one in five carers receives Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit, and 119,975 carers received the Carer’s Support Grant in 2018; and

— an estimated 35,000 or more full-time carers do not qualify for Carer’s Allowance due to the means test, the income disregard for which has not increased since 2008;

further recognises that:

— caring for a loved one has a knock-on effect not only on people’s lives but also has consequences for their families and their other relationships;

— a great many carers are under stress, with significant increases in the numbers reporting poor health, including conditions such as depression and anxiety; and

— measures taken during the period of Ireland’s Economic Adjustment Programme now need to be re-examined to ensure that carers receive an appropriate level of support from the State, including additional support to cover the rising cost of living in recent years; and

calls on the Government to:

— develop a new National Carers Strategy, taking into account the implications of Ireland’s recent ratification of the UNCRPD, and with regard to the specific needs of minority populations;

— conduct a study of the income and living costs of carers, with a view to ensuring that income supports are sufficient to ensure all carers can meet the extra costs associated with caring and can attain a decent minimum standard of living for themselves;

— substantially reform the means test for Carer’s Allowance, with the long-term aim of its abolition, and as an interim measure in Budget 2020 to substantially increase the income disregard, extend the range of allowable deductions and increase the capital disregard in the means test;

— make the Carer’s Allowance exempt from income tax in line with other means tested welfare allowances;

— increase the hours a recipient of Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit can work or study from 15 to 18.5 hours per week;

— provide adequate funding to address waiting lists for homecare and home supports;

— provide community and voluntary organisations with increased funding so that people in every location have access to adequate services;

— replace the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant;

— increase funding to the Housing Adaptation Grant; and

— extend the GP visit card to carers in receipt of the Carer’s Support Grant.

I think that Deputy Brendan Ryan may be going to speak on this motion as well for about five minutes.

I am proud and greatly honoured to have the opportunity on behalf of the Labour Party to propose this important motion seeking basic improvements on behalf of family carers. It is well known that I have had a long-term career, for some 25 years or more, in advocacy for and on behalf of carers. My interest in this area is not new founded, it is something that long and well established.

In 2015, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, found that one person in ten was providing care to someone with an illness or disability. On that basis, about 355,000 people in the population are carers. Roughly one in ten people in Ireland are carers today and this will increase to one in five by 2030 given the ageing demographic. The 355,000 people could in fact be 375,000 based on the latest CSO population figures published some months ago. Every one of those people has a different story. The stories we heard at family carer events across Ireland were heart-rending and would move anybody. They are familiar stories. Any of us involved in the caring movement know exactly what is involved. People are looking after their elderly parents, an elderly uncle or aunt or after a child with a disability. I spoke to a woman from the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area this evening. Her story would move anyone. She is looking after a 28 year old child and is working extremely hard. She went back to work and is now going back onto the carer's allowance. She has a difficult job to get it.

There are also less well known stories. People are working full-time and then acting as a carer around the clock for a spouse who is at home due to illness or disability. Children under the age of 18 are taking on significant caring responsibilities for their parents. We know that tens of thousands of children and teenagers, as young as ten years old, are providing care in this situation. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, a colleague of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has been a great advocate in this area. Many people estimate that some 25,000 children and young people are in that situation. I believe that is a gross underestimate. There is talk now of an estimate of 56,000 young people providing care across Ireland.

People affected by disability or illness want to stay in their own homes. That is their most comfortable environment. A carer's allowance of €200 would assist in allowing that to happen, along with adequate respite care and home help. There is strong evidence that quality of life is improved and people live longer in their home environment. An immediate and achievable priority is to increase substantially the number of hours, homecare packages, and home help hours or alternatively, to establish the entitlement to secure the same outcome on a statutory framework. I acknowledge the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, in that regard. They are positive.

Carers do not want our sympathy or our pity. They also do not want to be put on a pedestal or canonised. They are just ordinary people struggling to care for their loved ones without the supports they so desperately need and deserve. Carers are people who have chosen to look after their loved ones and they do need help. They need practical help. Most importantly, what they often need is an acknowledgement of their role, which is often disregarded. That is what the State should be doing, that is how the State should intervene and that is what the State has to do better than it is doing. Carers need respite and training. Some need a downstairs bathroom at a critical time. Others require home help hours when those hours are needed and not when the system decides to grant them - if those people ever get the hours. That is, by hell, some system to try to navigate. It is no wonder that these people are at breaking point. Some carers just burn out and feel exhausted.

First and foremost, therefore, carers need financial support. Only one carer in five receives carer's allowance or carer's benefit. Those are the only payments in the social welfare system that I know of where it is necessary for people to work full time and still only get €16 more than if they sat at home resting on their hands. It is an invidious situation. Those payments are means-tested and the rules for the means test have not changed since 2008, despite the rising costs of living. People are being unfairly left without income support.

A major and cherished goal of mine and of the Labour Party has been our policy to try to abolish the means test. In 2003, I published a report entitled "Caring for The Carers". Our goal should be to abolish the means test but in the interim, I know we must face and deal with reality, such the impact of Brexit. In the interim, we should substantially increase the income disregard and the capital disregard. We should do that because when disability allowance is awarded, there is a cap on disregard of €50,000 but when carer's allowance is granted, the cap on disregard is €20,000. What is so different about carers? That difference is invidious and discriminatory.

I know this is not the area of responsibility of the Minister of State but I ask him to relay this situation to the Government. That is the simplest thing he could do today. I heard about another change today that we could make quickly. A special fund could be established tomorrow, in addition to homecare packages, for onset conditions. For example, stroke victims initially require a huge number of hours of caring but it is for a finite time. People get better. Some people are of the view, however, that the provision of a large-scale input of hours would be robbing other people. A special fund should be set up for that type of situation.

I ask the Minister of State to raise this issue at Cabinet. I believe there is a commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to review the disregard level and the means test. Nothing has been done, however. Abolishing the means test, according to the Government's own figures, would cost €1.2 billion. I got those figures last week. I know the money is not there now but in the long term, it would be money well spent. The return on that money would be absolutely phenomenal. The Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Secretary General of that the Department, Mr. Watt, would be delighted at the return on the investment. They are the people who seem to count.

Carer's allowance is the only means-tested welfare payment that is taxed. How is that fair? This payment should be made exempt from income tax in line with other means-tested payments. Making it subject to a tax is, in effect, adding insult to injury. The Government is taking 40%, or more, off of the top. That is madness. There are other supports that the State provides. People who are caring day in and day out need respite. This is a big issue. Those people are caring full time and only have a break when their siblings or children step in to take over for a few days. That puts a strain on the wider family.

Let us look at this from another perspective. There are plenty of people who work full time and who use up their holidays to provide relief care for their siblings or parents. This is just one example of how care work affects the lives of so many people in families. Some are struggling to earn a few bob to pay a mortgage and everything else. It is a major demand. The State can and should be doing much more to provide respite for the sake of the physical and mental health of the carers. We need to address the issue of training in a holistic way. Many carers are involved by themselves in manually lifting their loved ones in and out of beds on their own. As a barrister, I know that if someone else was doing a similar type of work, he or she would be breaching the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Whoever was responsible could be sued. These carers need help.

We need to revise and replace the old mobility allowance and motorised transport grant. That has been going on since 2013. As the saying goes down in Ballynacargy, a long churning makes bad butter. This is taking so long the butter must be rancid at this stage.

We need to increase funding for the housing adaptation grant. The Government has increased it but we need it more and more because our people need more appliances, mobility aids and equipment. That is essential. For every euro we spend on carers we get a huge return. The carers' associations, Family Carers Ireland and Care Alliance Ireland, say they are saving the State €10 billion. The cost of all these income support schemes is much less than that. I have said this so often; if carers were to down tools and require the State to step in with nursing homes and staff, the whole system would collapse overnight. However, carers are not asking for the State to do everything. They know that resources are limited. I was speaking to a lady this evening who knew that. They are doing most of the work without complaint. However they need the rest of society to appreciate and acknowledge their work and its social value, and ensure adequate support for them to keep going. The cost is minuscule when one carefully and objectively examines what we are getting in return.

That brings me to a crucial point. Many carers are badly stretched. Careers suffer from serious health issues themselves, including mental health issues like depression and anxiety. That is the human cost of being constantly available and on call to support somebody who needs their care, which they give with unbridled love. This is why the Labour Party believes that those in support of the carer's support grant should also receive a GP visit card. The other day somebody asked me on the radio why that should be. It is a question the Government itself will probably raise. I would simply ask, why not? Carers are not getting the card because of the means test. Some carers get the carer's support grant but not the carer's allowance. There are roughly 28,000 such people; that is what is left when roughly 80,000 are subtracted from an overall number of a little over 100,000. Giving these carers the GP visit card would recognise the impact their work has on their health. Those are small changes. The disregard could be incorporated into the budget straight away, as could the policy of extending the GP visit card to carers who are not in receipt of carer's allowance. As the motion notes, carers suffer from serious health issues including mental health issues like depression and anxiety. We need to deal with that. We need to encourage carers to look after their own health, and it makes sense to remove any cost barriers that might prevent people from going to a doctor to look after themselves.

There is a big question over the future sustainability of the whole system as it is constructed. People are working as hard as they can to look after their loved ones and in many cases, the stress and strain is intolerable. At this point carers are genuinely in crisis. We need much more detailed scrutiny and debate about the future of caring. We need a new national carers strategy. The Government is moving towards a social care model. As long as it is adequately resourced that will be fine, but I do not believe in attaching one and a half legs to a strategy that should have four. Without the other two and a half legs, the whole system will collapse. That is what is going to happen.

The strategy needs to take account of several home truths. Our population is ageing, which means that more people than ever before will be involved in care. One person in five will be involved by 2030. Families have fewer children, which means that care duties will be shared between fewer people in the family circle. The Minister of State knows this. Conditions like dementia are on the rise, which means that more challenging care situations will be common in future years. We have to take the issue of carers much more seriously than we have to date.

The Government has to open its eyes to the reality of carers' lives and the pressure they are under. I hope the Labour Party's motion tonight makes a contribution to that in a non-partisan and all-embracing way. I see that Sinn Féin has tabled an amendment with some very positive points. We have no issue with that. We all have to get behind this. It is not a partisan issue. If we do so we will be certain of success. I made this point before and the Minister of State is aware of it.

I will give one example of the means test. A woman in the audience stood up at a meeting in Mullingar, at which I spoke very passionately about the means test. We waste a lot of money on administration. Applicants must try to get through to administrators and are then put through a process. Unless there are five "severe" marks on an application form it will be refused straight away. I know that - I have been dealing with this for 30 years. I would say I have done more appeals on carer's allowance applications than anyone in this country. The person who spoke out at this meeting was a married woman with a couple of adult children in England who had come home to look after her parents. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, will vouch for this. It is not a lie. It is the blank truth. She applied for carer's allowance to look after two elderly parents, including a mother with dementia and Alzheimer's. They were in their 80s and 90s. The first thing our beloved State bureaucrats did was ask the value of her house in England. How dare they?

This woman was looking after an elderly mother and father and that is the first thing they thought of. That should be snapped out of the system. That woman left her own family in England to look after her parents and that was the first thing we did. We gave a lot of people a one-way ticket on the cattle boat from Dún Laoghaire in the 1950s, including six uncles of mine. I know a bit about this. Here was someone who had come back to look after their parents, the most precious thing she could do, and the first thing the Irish State did was poke its finger in her eye and ask how much her house was worth. A house in England could be worth £400,000. It belonged to the family. Without the disregards of €20,000, the carer's allowance was disallowed. The woman had to hire help and she went back to work to get carer's benefit. By hell, that took a stretch. It takes weeks and weeks to get something that should be received in ten days.

I am sick and tired of this. I have been at this for 22 years, since 1997. If there is one thing I would love to see, it is proper recognition of the work carers do. The basic weekly carer's allowance payment is €219. The average contribution to the fair deal scheme is €824. A hospital bed for acute care costs €6,000. Do the maths. A fool who got NG in the leaving certificate could prove that this is the most effective, cost-efficient and decent way of helping people. Let us salute the carers of Ireland. We got them on the cheap and we have exploited them. This is naked exploitation. We are an absolute disgrace as a country. I do not mind paying extra tax to make sure they get their dues. I come from a side of this House that believes that we need to levy taxes to provide services for people. Some day I will probably be in that position myself, and I hope somebody will get the carer's allowance if they need it to look after me. That is the way I think. Not everyone might think that, but the Labour Party has always thought in that way. We have sought to provide for the wider public, not for ourselves. We left the "me" to Thatcher. We always thought of the "we". I commend this motion.

It is difficult to follow Deputy Penrose.

The Labour Party has always been a strong advocate for our carers. and with this motion, we seek to address outstanding issues impacting the daily lives and well-being of carers, such as the means-testing attached to eligibility. We are also asking the Government to conduct a study of the income and living costs of carers to ensure that income supports are sufficient for all carers to attain a decent minimum standard of living. With this motion Labour wants to give a voice to carers, as all too often people who care for a loved one do so in isolation while facing a daily struggle. That is why we need a national carers strategy that recognises the value of carers. It must recognise how much the State benefits from them and how much carers save the State. It is difficult to quantify how many carers there are in Ireland at any one time. We all know at least one person who is providing full-time care to a loved one. It is very likely that we know more than one such person.

As local representatives we meet dozens if not hundreds of carers during our time in office. Indeed, many of us in this Chamber have been carers ourselves or have lived in a home in which full-time care is being provided. As such, we know the commitment, the compassion and in the words of our motion the "inestimable value" that carers provide our society. One person in ten is now involved in caring. According to Family Carers Ireland, that figure is set to rise to one in five by 2030. If every one of those carers stopped what they are doing in the morning. the impact it would have on our health system is incalculable. Carers take the pressure off acute hospital beds and accident and emergency departments and give those they care for the comfort of staying in their own homes, which helps to bring about better medical outcomes. Caring for a loved one has a knock-on effect, not only on the carers themselves but also on their families and loved ones. A great many carers are under stress, with significant increases in the number reporting poor health, including depression and anxiety.

Care Alliance Ireland estimates that there are approximately 375,000 carers in Ireland, many of whom will face the additional issues I have mentioned, including the impact on their personal lives, stress and anxiety. The alliance also estimates that the official number for younger carers grossly understates the reality. According to the 2016 census, the figure for young carers is 13,000. However, the Health Behaviours in School Children survey of 2014 reported that 56,118 children between the ages of ten and 17 were providing some form of care across Ireland. Members should consider the impact on their lives, including their social lives, their ability to study, meet friends and relax from the pressures of school and exams. If this progresses, it can limit the ability of young carers to transition to further education or employment due to financial cost and the preparation time required.

Existing State supports do not go far enough and too many carers are suffering burn-out and serious ill health on foot of the stress and strain of their work. Unfortunately, the role of carer falls disproportionately on women. I hope the Government accepts that we need to do more. There are too many rules and requirements around carer payments which restrict unnecessarily people's ability to balance care work with study or paid employment. Deputy Penrose expanded on that issue very well. Carer's allowance should not be taxed and the means test for the payment must be updated as a matter of urgency. The Labour Party wants to see it being phased out completely over time. Carers are always the unsung heroes. They experience isolation, poor health and, in increasing numbers, stress. This is not helped by the lack of provision of adequate home help hours and respite care as discussed by the House yesterday evening. Most carers are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. Carers require support in their caring journey in accordance with their individual needs. The Labour Party motion recognises the contribution made by carers. It is time the Government did the same.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"acknowledges that:

— Ireland has a duty to protect persons with disabilities and their caregivers, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)and provide necessary support for the child and for those who care for the child, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);

— the vision of the Carers’ Strategy is to recognise and respect carers as key care partners, who are supported to maintain their own health and wellbeing and to care with confidence and empowered to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life;

— the Health Service Executive (HSE) Disability Services budget for 2019 is €1.9 billion, providing 8,568 residential places, 22,272 day places, 182,506 respite overnights, 32,662 day respite sessions, 1.63 million personal assistant hours for 2,535 people, and 3.08 million home support hours for 8,094 people; and

— an additional €10 million was provided to the disability sector in 2018, to enhance respite care and alternative respite services including extended day services, summer camps and Saturday clubs;

notes that there are a number of sources of data on family carers in Ireland, and that Census 2016 found that:

— 195,263 or 4.1 per cent of respondents indicated that they provided regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability, including problems due to old age;

— the total number of family carers increased by 4.4 per cent between 2011 and 2016 and the total number of family carers aged 45 or older increased by 11.3 per cent; and

— there were 13,000 family carers under the age of 25 in 2016, a decrease of over 1,000 compared to 2011;

recognises that:

— the health system relies heavily on family and other unpaid carers, who make a profound difference to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of those that they care for;

— two in five family carers receive Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit;

— the rate of Carer’s Allowance has increased every year since 2017;

— since 2016, Carer’s Allowance continues to be paid for 12 weeks after the death of the person being cared for, an increase of six weeks, and since 2017, this extension was also granted in cases where the cared for person permanently moved into residential care or a nursing home;

— the means test for Carer’s Allowance is one of the most generous in the social protection system, in that €332.50 of gross weekly income is disregarded in the calculation of means for a single person and the equivalent for someone who is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting is €665 of combined gross weekly income;

— the work of family carers is indispensable in ensuring that people requiring care across the country can receive such care in their own homes and communities, while maintaining their independence and sense of self-worth;

— providing care to loved ones can have a significant impact on the health, physical and mental wellbeing, finances and familial and societal relationships of family carers;

— a range of social services and supports are necessary to enable family carers to provide care to the best of their ability;

— the Government is committed to the full implementation of the National Carers’ Strategy, 2012, a whole-of-Government response to the challenges faced by family carers through the development of 42 actions under four national goals;

— five progress reports published by the Department of Health, along with a series of independently conducted assessments of progress on the implementation of the strategy from the perspective of family carers, have found that a majority of actions have progressed in a way that has led to a positive impact on the lives of family carers although more work remains to be done;

— the provision of Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Carer’s Support Grant and Domiciliary Care Allowance, at a cost of almost €1.2 billion in 2019, offers an important income support to family carers;

— since 1st June, 2017, all children in receipt of a Domiciliary Care Allowance are eligible for a medical card without a means test;

— increasing the income disregard for Carer’s Allowance from €332.50 to €450 for a single person and €665 to €900 for a couple would cost the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection approximately €73 million, with income tax and Working Family Payment offsets, the net expenditure would be €55 million;

and

— it is a condition of receipt of Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit that the carer must be providing full-time care and attention, and the current limit of 15 hours of work or study per week is considered 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;

further recognises that:

— over the past four years there has been a considerable increase of nearly €140 million in the home supports budget which has grown from €306 million in 2015 to almost €446 million in 2019, with demand continuing to grow, and a combined 18.2 million hours of general and intensive home support for older people will be provided this year;

— the HSE reviews people on the waiting list as funding becomes available to ensure that individual cases continue to be dealt with on a priority basis within the available resources and as determined by the local frontline staff who know and understand the clients’ needs, and who undertake regular reviews of those care needs to ensure that the services being provided remain appropriate;

— the HSE provides over €21.6 million in annual funding through service level arrangements with community and voluntary organisations who provide services to support family carers including in home respite services, peer-to-peer support and training courses;

— the Minister for Health and the Minister of State for People with Disabilities intend to revert to Government in due course with revised proposals to reflect discussions at Cabinet and further discussions between the Ministers on the best way to progress the Transport Scheme, and it is notable that with regard to transport there are improvements in access to a range of transport support schemes available to persons with disabilities in the State and on-going work is being carried out by Government Departments, agencies and transport providers to further improve access to public transport services, and under the National Disability Inclusion Strategy, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for the continued development of accessibility and availability of public transport for people with a disability;

— in 2019, funding of €71.25 million was allocated by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to the Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability, Housing Aid for Older People and Mobility Aids Grant, comprising €57 million Exchequer funding, an increase of some 8 per cent on the 2018 figure, with the balance of €14.25 million being contributed by the local authorities and the responsibility for the apportionment between the three grant schemes is a matter for each local authority; and

— since September 2018, free GP visit cards have been extended to persons in receipt of the Carer’s Allowance, and a key point in the decision to exclude Carer’s Support Grant recipients from the GP visit card scheme is that the grant is not directly comparable to either the Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit, it is a once-off yearly payment of €1,700 made by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is not means tested; and

further acknowledges that the Government commits to:

— fully implementing the National Carers Strategy, and developing a new Social Care Strategy, in line with the vision of Sláintecare to deliver a universal health service that offers the right care, in the right place at the right time;

— establishing a new stand-alone statutory scheme and system of regulation for home care services;

— including representatives of family carer advocacy organisations in the development of policy that has an impact on the ability of family carers to care for their loved one(s); and

— continuing to grow supports for family carers to allow them to maintain their health and wellbeing and to continue caring with confidence."

I thank Deputies for their contributions. In particular, I acknowledge the passion of Deputy Penrose in respect of the matter, which was evident when he spoke. I have often said that one of the characteristics I most admire in a Deputy is consistency on an issue. I acknowledge that the Deputy has been extraordinarily consistent on this issue over many debates. He has raised the matter in debates when its relevance was not direct and never lost an opportunity to highlight the position of carers. I acknowledge him and the wider Labour Party for their continued focus on the issue.

The State recognises the role that family carers play in society and is committed through a range of healthcare and income supports to support carers in their caring role and to alleviate the financial burden of caring. Over the past 15 years, the number of recipients of carer's allowance has increased by 347% and the number of recipients of carer's benefit has quadrupled. In addition, the carer's support grant increased by 23% in 2016. Since 2011, total payments across carer's allowance, carer's benefit, carer's support grant and the domiciliary care allowance have increased by more than €426 million, or 56%. While there are many positive and rewarding aspects of caring, it is evident that caring is a significant challenge, affecting all aspects of a family carer's life. The needs of the cared for person can place great demands on the energy and time of the family carer and, given that many provide full-time care, have a significant impact on their relationships with other people, their professional lives and their physical and mental health and well-being. According to census 2016, there are more than 195,000 family carers in the State who provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability, including problems due to old age. Family carers are, therefore, an integral part of the provision of health and social care in Ireland. Just as they offer unconditional care and support to their loved ones, they deserve our continued recognition, respect and support.

In light of the vital role played by family carers in Ireland, the first ever national carers' strategy was published in 2012. The strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the challenges faced by family carers and sets out the strategic direction for future policies, services and supports provided by Departments and agencies for carers. The strategy is designed around a core vision that recognises and respects carers as key care partners who are supported to maintain their own health and well-being, care with confidence and empowered to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life. Oversight of the strategy is led by my Department, while the HSE's multi-divisional carer strategy group continues to support the process across the service divisions to progress the actions in the strategy. The strategy provides for the implementation of 42 actions under four national goals that aim to recognise the value and contribution of carers and promote their inclusion in decisions relating to the person they are caring for; support carers to manage their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being; support carers to care with confidence through the provision of adequate information, training, services and supports; and empower carers to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.

Ireland has a duty to protect persons with disabilities and their caregivers under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. Reflecting the strength of the Government's commitment to the convention, the HSE's disability services budget for 2019 is €1.9 billion, which is an increase of €350 million since this Government entered office. In addition, the provision of carer's allowance, carer's benefit, carer's support grant and domiciliary care allowance, at a cost of almost €1.2 billion in 2019, offers an important source of income support for those caring for a family member due to old age or disability. The HSE provides in excess of €21.6 million in annual funding through service-level arrangements with community and voluntary organisations to provide services to support family carers, including in-home respite services, peer to peer support and training courses. The significant contribution made by community and voluntary organisations is hugely valued in both social care and health service provision. Organisations such as Family Carers Ireland play a crucial role in advocating on behalf of family carers, offering an excellent nationwide system of supports tailored to meet the needs of family carers in every area of the country. I commend and thank them for their efforts in highlighting the issues faced by family carers and for representing them on the national stage.

Funding has been secured through the Dormant Accounts Fund for information and training supports for family carers. This is assisting carers to provide the best care possible to the care recipient, reduce the risk of injury to the corer and care recipient and to help family carers cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of their role. Funding is also being made available to provide for the dissemination of resource information for family carers, develop support networks and support groups to assist with the transition back into social and economic life at the end of the caring role and to implement measures that assist in promoting carer self-identification. Identifying carers and their needs as early as possible is of critical importance if they are to be supported in their caring role. The introduction of the carer's needs assessment tool will be a key step in helping to identify carers at all stages and will play a role in identifying the supports required. My Department secured dormant accounts funding, which will enable the assessment tool to be piloted in a HSE community healthcare organisation this year. The pilot study will greatly benefit the development of a comprehensive, standardised family carer needs assessment to identify needs. It will do so by providing an opportunity to refine and improve needs assessment.

It is worth noting the five progress reports by my Department covering the period, 2012 to 2017, and a series of independently conducted assessments of progress on the implementation of the national carers' strategy from the perspective of family carers, which found that a majority of actions have progressed in a way that has led to a positive impact on the lives of family carers. The goals of the strategy continue to apply and its guiding principles, namely recognition, support and empowerment of carers, remain as valid now as they were in 2012. Rather than spending our time on the development of a new strategy, we should focus our efforts on ensuring the full implementation of the current strategy. That is why the Government remains committed to delivering the existing strategy and my Department and the HSE, through its multi-divisional carer strategy group, are focused on meeting the health sector commitments in the strategy. I encourage all Departments and agencies to continue to build on the progress achieved under the strategy to ensure a genuine whole-of-Government response to the wide range of needs of carers is maintained.

The Committee on the Future of Healthcare's Sláintecare report supports a significant shift in our model of care to one that is focused on prevention and early intervention and which will provide the majority of care in the community. The Government's Sláintecare implementation strategy sets out an ambitious programme of reform to deliver this vision. In line with the vision of Sláintecare to deliver a universal health service that offers the right care in the right place at the right time, my Department has commenced preliminary consideration of the scope of a social care strategy. The strategy, which is in the early stages of planning, will enhance support and focus for the key goals of current policies, including the national carers' strategy. We cannot underestimate the devotion and dedication of family carers to their loved ones. They are entitled to our respect, but also to our support. The Government is committed to looking after people who spend their time looking after others, not because it saves the State money elsewhere, but because family carers ensure that cared for persons can continue to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Family carers work exceptionally hard. As such, the Government records in the House its desire to recognise them, thank them for the work and reassure them that we will continue to offer a range of supports that will enable them to continue caring with confidence.

I would like to share time with Deputies Butler, Browne, Eugene Murphy, McGuinness, Cahill and Ó Cuív.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate Deputy Penrose on the introduction of the motion. As we have heard, there are approximately 350,000 carers in the country, which equates to almost one in ten of the population. By 2030 one in five people will be a carer. Just over one fifth of carers receive carer's allowance. As Deputy Penrose said, the carer's allowance payment received by someone caring on a 24/7 basis who may be working in this role for 80 or 90 hours a week is just €16 a week more than the payment received by someone on jobseeker's allowance. While I appreciate that carer's benefit and the carer's support grant must be counted also, nobody can argue that carers are well paid for the amount of effort they put in. If we calculate it on the basis of the national minimum wage, we will find that approximately €10 billion worth of voluntary work is being done in the State every year by carers, of whom some 80% are unpaid. If the State had to come up with that money, the Minister for Finance's problems with a no-deal Brexit, or even a Brexit with a deal, would pale into insignificance. We have to put measures in place to deal with this growing problem or phenomenon. The ostrich approach is no longer sufficient.

I have examined the proposals made in the Labour Party's motion. In fairness, many of them would cost very little. I myself have put some of them forward. I would say that in all cases, we would be talking about a gross cost. The net cost would be far lower. In fact, the net cost would be a fantastic substantial benefit to the Exchequer, as I think the Minister of State realises. Some of the things set out in the motion would be relatively cost-free and could be done immediately. I refer, for example, to the restoration or replacement of the mobility allowance which was abolished as a result of a decision made by the Ombudsman in 2013. Like other Deputies, I have asked on numerous occasions in this House when this allowance will be restored. The answer we are continually given is that there are complications. What is so complicated about it? After six years, we still do not know when it will be restored. Essentially, it means that the only transport assistance available to disabled or elderly people is the disabled driver's regulations grant which is drawn extremely narrowly. As it applies to people with physical disabilities only, there is no assistance whatsoever for people with intellectual disabilities.

The motion proposes that carers be allowed to work for more than 15 hours a week. If they could work for 18.5 hours a week, they would avoid being caught in with the working family payment which kicks in at 19 hours a week. That is a very reasonable request. When I recently asked the Minister for Finance how much this measure would cost the State, I was given a conservative estimate of €1 million from the Department of Finance. I disagree with it because I think the State would actually gain from such a move. Why not take this step? I know plenty of carers who would be able to work over and above the 15 hours a week threhold and thereby enhance their incomes. God knows, they badly need it. I cannot see any great issue with it.

There is certainly a cost involved in the means test. The motion sets out responsibly that the ultimate objective must be to have no means test. We all aspire to achieving that objective. I would like to mention some figures in that context. I have suggested that in the lifetime of the next Government the €665 per week threshold be raised to the level of the average industrial wage. Of course, there is no justification for keeping the capital disallowance of €20,000. It has been pointed out that the disallowance for people with disabilities is €50,000. There is no obvious reason one should be different from the other. I know that the means test is relatively generous in social welfare terms, but it has not been altered since 2008. It has been frozen for the past 11 years.

I agree with the reference in the motion to the postcode lottery. When we met carers across the road earlier today, the importance of the availability of respite care in many cases was forcefully brought home to us. One's access to respite care and other services largely depends on where one happens to live in the country. This can no longer be tolerated. The Carers Association has made a magnificent and fantastically innovative proposal. If it were to be supplemented to the tune of approximately €3 million per annum, the postcode lottery would be virtually eliminated. It should be given serious consideration in the context of the next budget.

As the Minister of State will be aware, when one is looking after an elderly or sick person in the home, one often has to adapt the home accordingly. Sometimes nothing other than a stairlift is needed. On other occasions considerable adaptation works are required. The problem is that the financial assistance for housing adaptations has moved backwards. In real terms, when inflation is stripped out, we are spending less than we did ten years ago, even though the number of people over the age of 65 years or in receipt of disability payments has risen significantly in tandem with the increase in the population over that time. I do not understand the logic of our approach in that regard, particularly when we are talking about very low figures in the overall context.

To be frank, the position on local authority housing is a disgrace. Funding for the repair and adaptation of local authority housing has decreased by approximately 25% in real terms in the past five or six years, even though the number of people living in local authority houses has increased in that time. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and I share the same constituency. I am sure she can testify to the fact that corporation houses in every part of Limerick city are lying empty. The council tells us that it has no money to do them up, even though approximately 4,000 people are on the housing list, which is getting worse.

I think the Government should accept the motion which we will support. Contrary to what some people have suggested, it is not a question of throwing money at problems, or of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party being spendthrift; rather, it is a question of saving the State a hell of a lot of money in the not too distant future. We know what is going to happen down the line from a demographics perspective and what we are trying to do. As Deputy Penrose pointed out, the net weekly cost to the State of home care is €900, if it stops at that figure, whereas the weekly cost of a hospital bed is €6,000. We have to put something in place that will represent a substantial saving to the State and, much more importantly, prevent many people from suffering the distress, anxiety and anguish they will suffer if we do not make this change. For demographic reasons, this is probably the only way we can do it down the line. We will be happy to support the motion.

When I spoke yesterday to the Sinn Féin motion on home support workers, I started by paying tribute to carers. Once again, I pay tribute to the immense work done by them. I support the motion proposed by Deputy Penrose and his Labour Party colleagues. Those who work as carers have been completely undervalued by the Government, even though they provide essential support for their loved ones at a substantially reduced cost to the State. Carers who do not have access to proper support services struggle to obtain appropriate training and advice on the challenges they face. They cannot access emergency support and are unable to take regular breaks from their demanding roles. They often feel alone, undervalued and ignored.

As Deputy O'Dea said, there are 375,000 carers in Ireland.

We must remember that some of them are very young, some are very old and others are dual carers because they are caring for a child who might have an intellectual disability and elderly parents. Fewer than one fifth of these people receive the carer's allowance so they are certainly doing the State some service.

I recently attended a Carers in Crisis public meeting organised by carers for carers for the south east. I was struck by what I found at that meeting. Carers feel neglected, isolated and depressed. I listened to people who were in utter despair as they spoke openly about their daily lives, the challenges they face and how difficult it is trying to cope from day to day. One issue that came up on more than one occasion was the need for emergency respite care in the event of a major family upset such as a death. I listened intently to a young mother in her forties who had a ten-year-old child with intellectual disabilities. Her own mother had passed away. She said that she felt like a beggar trying to find emergency respite care for her child because there was no way she would have been able to mind her child during the upheaval of the funeral and burial. I was struck by how difficult it is when something out of the ordinary happens and how important emergency respite care is. I am sure every Member has similar stories but if there is one pointer we could take out of this debate, it is that emergency respite care is so important.

I also want to refer to another parent whose child had intellectual and physical disabilities. The father had given up work because the child was as big as a young adult. Carer's benefit is only paid for 104 weeks. This man was coming to the end of the 104-week term and was under pressure trying to decide whether he would go back to work and wondering how the family was going to cope. There is a big ask in this regard. Carer's benefit needs to be extended to 156 weeks, which is three years. That would make a significant difference. If the child was cared for on a full-time basis by the State, it would cost far more and, therefore, it would be fiscally sensible to extend carer's benefit for a parent of a child who has to give up work to 156 weeks in order that the parent can stay at home and look after his or her own child.

I thank Deputy Penrose for bringing forward this important motion on carers, who do immense and phenomenal work in our society. Approximately 350,000 people in this country are carers, with one in ten people looking after a loved one, and this number will increase substantially as our population ages. Approximately one in five carers receive carer's supports. Many of these carers are at breaking point. They are very much isolated and suffer from anxiety and depression - very often because of the lack of support for them. When carers get to a point where they end up breaking down because they do not have the supports they need, it becomes self-defeating because they are no longer in a position to look after the people who need to be cared for. Those supports need to be put in place along with appropriate training and advice. Many carers simply are not aware of what rights are out there and how to access them.

Regarding respite care, I dealt with one woman today who told me that it has been more than six years since her family was provided with respite care, which makes it difficult for that family as its members become more and more tired looking after their loved ones. I also want to talk about the time it takes to get approval for carer's benefit, particularly in cases where people have terminal cancer. I know that, ultimately, there is back pay. I was told about it previously by the Taoiseach but that is an irrelevance when somebody needs approval for the payment in order that he or she can get the care he or she needs. I ask the Minister of State to pay heed to this motion and I am glad to support it.

Like everybody else, we come here every time asking, "Why, why, why?" The motion deals with carers this evening and it was home helps yesterday evening. There seems to be an ongoing situation involving these improvements that should happen but are not happening. As has been pointed out, carers save the State billions of euro. Carers should not have to go down this road as they are saving the State money. One in ten people provide care for a loved one. Fianna Fáil was involved in bringing in the carer's allowance, carer's benefit and respite care grant, which is now the carer's support grant. Fianna Fáil made changes to the social welfare system in order half-rate carer's allowance could be paid. All these measures were implemented probably when times were not as good. While we acknowledge there are strains on finances and we do not know what will happen with Brexit, the Government must look after people in these circumstances. They are saving the State a lot of money and doing a lot of work that would otherwise have to be done by the State. We should realise one thing about carers today. Many years ago, the local doctor called to houses to look after older people and advise families about them. This practice has disappeared. That is the way things go so this is all the more reason more supports, training and assistance should be introduced for carers and there should be further change to the social welfare system so that we make it easy for carers to take up this work and do it. Like everybody else, we want these changes to happen.

In respect of the case referred to by Deputy Penrose, those people are from my own parish. He is correct. They are from my parish and I know them very well. The Deputy made his case here passionately. I can tell him their daughter was stressed after being asked for a valuation of their house in England. The same happened with another lady in my parish. We have significant difficulty with that case. She was asked questions about bringing her sister-in-law home from England when she realised she had Alzheimer's disease. She was put through the mill trying to get home care assistance for her sister-in-law.

Deputy Eugene Murphy spoke about the bureaucracy encountered by carers and how it is deal with by the Department. I would like all of that to be streamlined and greater understanding shown to those coming home to care for their individual family members. Carers have saved the State significant money. Every Member will make that statement. It is time the Government began to count the cost in terms of how much money is saved because we are not talking about one individual carer. We are talking about family members coming together to cover all the hours to look after the individual they love. That needs to be recognised.

I support what Deputy Butler said about the meeting held in Kilkenny. The anger at that meeting stemmed from the fact that carers feel they are not appreciated and understood by Government, which does not understand the extent of the work they do, and they are under significant pressure. Other speakers mentioned stress, depression, difficulties in families and the arguments that take place. If we are going to give leadership in this area and prepare for a greater number of people to be cared for in the future, we must be proactively ahead of this and prepare for new ways of conducting this type of business. We must listen to those on the front line such as the people providing care and the people at that meeting.

I would say the same with regard to home care. The Government should listen to those employed by the HSE and how they believe the hours should be organised and recognised. It will find that it will save money and give greater care where it is needed through working with them rather than against them.

The role played by carers is immense. It is a reflection of the importance of the extended family in society, which is part of our history and culture. It is also a reflection of the strong sense of community that still exists, despite the pressures of modern living. We are clear about our responsibilities to older people and those who, for whatever reason, are unable to care fully for themselves. I am proud of the fact that Fianna Fáil introduced the carer's allowance, carer's benefit and respite care grant. It reflected our commitment to the role of the carer.

However, there are many things we can do better. Those working as carers have been undervalued by the Government, despite the fact that they provide essential supports to their loved ones at a substantially reduced cost to the State. Carers who do not have access to proper support services struggle to obtain appropriate training and advice about the challenges they face. Sometimes they cannot access emergency supports. Many are unable to take regular breaks from their demanding role and can often feel ignored, undervalued and alone. It is estimated that by 2030, one in five people will be a carer.

The outcome for a person being cared for at home is far better than for a person who is in permanent care away from home. Accordingly, careful investment in carers is quality investment in the health service. However, careful and quality investment in the health service have been in short supply in recent years. In order to maintain a strong, vibrant and motivated caring culture, we must invest in training, supports and, most of all, carers. Not to do so would be foolish in the extreme.

Deputy Ó Cuív has 12 seconds.

Will the Ceann Comhairle give me one minute and 12 seconds? One of the challenges every week on this side of the House during Private Members’ time is to get across a coherent point because the time allocated is so short.

Fianna Fáil supports the motion. The income disregards for carers are the exact same as they were in 2010. With incomes rising, the value of carers is going down dramatically. We must have particular regard for those with young children who require high levels of care who gave up their employment to care full time in the home and are dependent on one salary. That issue has to be examined, particularly in the case of those with high mortgage repayments.

Will the Minister of State change the means test to bring it into line with the changes in the cost of living since 2010? Will he take into account a reasonable amount for mortgage expenses as a deductible cost? The group of young carers of working age are being penalised.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and thank Deputy Penrose for bringing it forward. I welcome representatives from Family Carers Ireland to the Visitors Gallery. Sinn Féin has brought forward an amendment which I believe strengthens the motion. I hope all parties and none will read it and consider supporting it.

Carers are the backbone of our society and save the State €10 billion a year. Every day they look after and care for some of the most vulnerable citizens. In doing so, they ensure the person being cared for can remain in his or her own home, the place where he or she wants to be. The vision statement in the 2012 national carers strategy published by the Government stated:

Carers will be recognised and respected as key care partners. They will be supported to maintain their own health and well-being and to care with confidence. They will be empowered to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.

They are nice words, but seven years on we must ask ourselves if carers feel recognised, respected, supported and empowered? When it comes to the social protection system, the very obvious answer to that question is “No”. Instead, they face many significant challenges in a system which should support and protect them. Qualifying for a carer’s payment is almost impossible. That is why the majority of the 355,000 carers receive no carer’s payment whatsoever. Why? The means test used to determine if a person will qualify for carer’s allowance is extremely rigid. It considers all household income of the carer based on gross income, essentially money a household never actually sees. It should be calculated on net income. The allowable deductions in the assessment of means also need to be extended to items such as mortgage repayments, rent payments, costs associated with dependent children and medical costs. Those who take up a caring role will always be impacted on financially. We can and should lessen the impact. Those who receive a carer’s payment are restricted in that they cannot qualify for secondary benefits such as the working family payment. They cannot work or study outside the home for more than 15 hours a week. That flies in the face of the vision statement. We should not tell carers what hours they can work or study outside the home. All caring roles are different and carers should be allowed to manage their own time. We should trust them to do so. Sinn Féin's amendment reflects this.

On returning to work or education after a caring role ceases, carers again face difficulties in that there is no intensive specific activation supports to assist them. We need to see existing schemes such as the local employment service and the community employment scheme resourced sufficiently to ensure carers are assisted in returning to work. They must have an opportunity to develop new skills, be assisted in updating their CVs and learn new interview techniques, with practical supports.

On retirement, when it comes to qualifying for the State pension, carers have been punished for having gaps in their PRSI records. The system overlooks care as a contribution, while placing the emphasis solely on contributions in paid employment. The motion makes no reference to carers and the State pension. The new total contributions approach should cater for carers and ensure the time they have taken out of the workforce to care for someone will be recognised as a contribution. We need to review the new approach to ensure it will benefit the very people it was introduced to help. The amendment would ensure that would happen.

The publication of a new national carers’ strategy is essential. The Minister of State has said he will not do this but will implement what has been proposed. There is a need for specific and dedicated funding, with timeframes to ensure Departments will meet their set objectives within a specific timeframe. Otherwise, the strategy is meaningless. The amendment would ensure this would happen.

Family Carers Ireland has told us that by 2030 one in five people will be a carer. A conversation is needed on what this will mean for employers and employees. The amendment calls for engagement between trade unions and key stakeholders representing employers, employees and carers on ways by which employers could better support employees with caring responsibilities, given the inevitable increase in the number of carers in the next ten years. We need to start this conversation now in order that we can plan for the increase.

While complimenting the work carers do and in recognising their valuable role in society, the challenges they face, as highlighted by them, are not being tackled. Far too many of them cannot access basic social welfare supports. They are limited in their caring role and punished financially, while, at the same time, saving the State billions of euro every year. Every day the Government tells us about the improving and growing economy, yet we are continuing to fail 355,000 carers. There is no longer a lack of funding available for the national carers strategy. That excuse can no longer be peddled by the Government. The strategy must be brought back to the table to be examined with carers and caring organisations. A new strategy must be published, with dedicated funding this year.

Carers have weathered the difficult economic storm and welcomed the national carers strategy seven years ago. They waited patiently for the Government to honour its commitment to review it in better economic times. This is the time to end the exploitation of carers who save the State billions of euro every year. I listened intently to the Minister of State’s statement.

It is full of applause for the carers but it lacks substance and commitment. It lacks a vision and a plan to help our carers. We owe that to them and we owe it to them now.

More than 68,000 carers in Ireland suffer from depression. That is enough to fill every seat in Croke Park. A large proportion of those carers suffer depression as a result of never getting a break. Every human being needs a break. Even a short break allows us to recharge. This is even more important if one is providing care seven days a week, 24 hours a day. As we know, 6,000 older people nationwide are on a waiting list for home help. Some 180 of those older people live in the constituency of Roscommon-Galway. This problem is compounded by the fact that seven out of ten full-time carers have no access to respite care to give them a vital break. They cannot get a break if they want to go to a family occasion. They cannot even get a few hours off to attend a family funeral. This leaves carers isolated and alone. It leaves them far more prone to getting sick, leading them to be hospitalised themselves, forcing the older person or person with a disability for whom they care into long-term residential care, which has a knock-on impact on the health service and on society as a whole. We need to ensure proper statutory provision for and access to respite care in this country to ensure carers get the opportunity to have that break. Whether it is a break of a few hours every week from providing full-time care to an older person or a break for a family occasion, that access needs to be put in place immediately.

I welcome Family Carers Ireland to the Visitors Gallery. I was at its briefing today. I fully support its pre-budget submission, "A Decade Lost". Its very reasonable demands are outlined in this motion and in the Sinn Féin amendment. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Member's motion but I also have to put on record my astonishment at the hypocrisy of the Labour Party on issues such as this. Its motion refers to the period of adjustment, which is to say, when the Labour Party was in office from 2011 to 2016. This is a very dishonest way to describe a period of brutal austerity deliberately aimed at the most vulnerable, the weakest, and those least able to resist. Labour Ministers were at the front line of this brutal assault on the very people in support of whom the party has now tabled a Private Members' motion.

In the submission from Family Carers Ireland it states:

Carer’s health, both physical and mental, has deteriorated as has their access to vital supports and services, including respite. Carer’s repeatedly reported in 2009 and in 2019 that they need more respite and homecare hours to support them to be healthy. Despite such calls for support, in the last decade there has been a 70% increase in the number of carers diagnosed with depression; a 24 percent increase in carers reporting poor health; a 30 percent increase in those experiencing anxiety and a 65 percent increase in the number of carers who have no access to respite.

The hypocrisy of the Government is equally astonishing and equally dishonest. Once again the Government's amendment includes weasel words about a commitment to Sláintecare when in fact Sláintecare, as a programme of serious reform to our healthcare system which is not fit for purpose, has effectively been shelved. A key point made in the Sláintecare report is that a piecemeal approach to implementation - a bit here and a bit there - would undermine the whole project. Without Sláintecare being implemented as intended, there will be no abatement of the health crisis.

It is a crisis that is worsening daily. For example, 6,300 families have been approved for home care assistance but are not going to get it. Funding has been frozen. An internal document from the HSE refers to the probability of a €500 million cut to home help hours to try to keep within the budget for this year. The HSE and the Minister of State say there will be no cuts but the reality is that-----

There is no chance of it being near €500 million.

-----6,300 families have been awarded home help which they are not being given.

How could one make a cut of €500 million to a budget of €450 million?

Respite hours are key for carers. Some 83% of carers do not have access to appropriate respite. That is absolutely outrageous.

The Deputy's facts are appalling.

They are not appalling. The following are words from Family Carers Ireland's submission, "These findings are a damning indictment of Government’s attitude towards carers and are completely at odds with Sláintecare’s core objective - to shift the delivery of care from an acute setting towards care in the community and home." Is the Minister of State saying those figures are wrong?

The other point it made very clearly is that the hours a carer can work or study per week must be increased from 15 to 18.5. It is very important to implement such an increase. I would like to see a genuine approach from Government to deal with these issues. We should be looking at putting money into issues such as these rather than at cutting taxes.

I am delighted to have a chance to speak briefly on the very comprehensive motion on carers that is before us. I thank the Labour Party for bringing it forward. When I was spokesman for the party some years ago I published the party’s carers’ strategy, which we called "Caring for our Carers". It was an important initiative. The motion before us today highlights Ireland's duty, under both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure that parents and caregivers for children and adults with disabilities are given assistance “including assistance with disability-related expenses”.

Earlier today, Family Carers Ireland launched its pre-budget submission for budget 2020. As the Minister of State knows, the representatives spoke of the anger and disappointment many carers feel at the moment. They said that morale is very low because of what they feel is a lack of support, especially with regard to home help and respite. Family Carers Ireland is asking for the carer’s allowance means test to be reformed and that the income disregard be increased to €450 for a single person and €900 for a couple. It highlights that there has been no change to the disregard since 2008, that is, for a decade. The group asks for allowable deductions to be extended and for income to be assessed on its net value. Family Carers Ireland is also asking for the capital disregard to be increased to €50,000, for carer’s allowance to be exempt from income tax, and for carer payments to be excluded from the financial assessment of the working family payment. It also believes the cap on work or study time for carers of 15 hours per week is too low and that it should be increased to at least 18.5 hours.

Many of these requests or asks are included in the very comprehensive motion Deputy Penrose has tabled. In addition to what I have outlined, the Labour Party motion also asks that a study be conducted on the cost of caring. One of the things for which we have advocated over the years is a cost of caring allowance. The other major reforms listed in the submission are also included in the motion before us. Of particular importance is providing community and voluntary organisations with increased funding in order that people in every location have access to adequate services. Other proposals include replacing the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant, increasing funding for the housing adaptation grant, and extending the GP visit card to carers in receipt of the carer’s support grant.

We all have been cared for and we all will be carers. We all have had experience of caring at one time or another but there is something like 355,000 full-time carers in Ireland, more than 13,000 of whom are under 25 years of age. This is a remarkable statistic. The average number of hours per week that a carer spends caring is conservatively estimated at 45 hours. Only approximately one fifth receive either carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit. It is estimated that at least 35,000 more are not granted a payment due to being outside of the income limits.

There is clearly a great deal of work that Government needs to do to properly recognise the contribution of carers. A study titled “Valuing Informal Care in Ireland: Beyond the Traditional Production Boundary” was carried out by Dr. Paul Hanly and Dr. Corina Sheerin. This study estimated the value of informal care in Ireland at €5.3 billion, which exceeds expenditure by the Government on home-based long-term care and long-term residential facilities.

It is a remarkable contribution by a cohort of fellow citizens. Many of us have had experience of this or will have in the future. In a very timely way the Labour Party motion brings the issue to our attention again, particularly in the run-up to making decisions on what may be a very difficult budget.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this important motion. People cannot organise the timing of when they get sick. It often happens that an elderly mother, father, brother or sister gets sick and has to go to hospital. Eventually they cannot stay in the hospital any longer and are faced with the choice of going into a home or going home. Many people from different walks of life do not like going into a home; it is a last resort. They feel that if they go into a home they will never come out into the world again. People want to go home and stay in their home for as long as possible. It is then up to a family member, perhaps a single daughter or son, to look after that person. They may be working and may have to give up their job and come home to mind their mother or father. The carer may be a mother who is already very busy with a young family and is going out to work. She is then asked to give up her job to mind her mum or dad.

Those family members apply for carer's allowance. That is the first time for them to be without their wages and they find that it takes up to 16 weeks to get the carer's allowance. It is unbelievable that people have to wait that long. Why does it take so long? Why can we not have more people processing the claims? After weeks it is pointed out that something is missing from the application and it takes more time. That person is either trying to borrow money from the credit union or trying to live on something they can get from the elderly parent's pension. It is not fair and it is not good enough. Government Members continually talk up the economy, but I believe there is no copper at all because anytime we look for something, money seems to be the trouble. People would appreciate it if the truth is that the Government does not have the money.

There is a lovely new hospital in Kenmare with only half of it open and at present there is only one respite bed there. If an elderly person gets two weeks' respite care in a year, for that entire area that hospital can cater for only 24 people. For the entire area from Poulgorm Bridge where one turns off the Cork road back to the end of Lauragh, through Kenmare and likewise down into Sneem as far as Castlecove or Cahirdaniel and all the places in between it is not enough. I am asking for that hospital to be fully utilised and brought into service.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion. This is an issue that should generate widespread cross-party support.

The Central Statistics Office has found that 10% of the population are providing care to someone with a chronic condition or an infirmity due to old age for an average of nearly 45 hours per week. An estimated 355,000 people in Ireland are carers, many of them caring for family members on an unpaid basis. Disturbingly the study also found that more than 13,000 carers are under the age of 25, including children involved in care giving, which is shocking. While this is commendable on one level it also speaks to the fact that so many young people are essentially providing the role of carer while also trying to balance other work-life opportunities including trying to rear young families.

I have highlighted that the carers of Tipperary provide a staggering 256,120 hours of care per week. This breaks down to an average of 42.1 hours per carer per week, which is an enormous sacrifice. The findings also record that 7,041 people in Tipperary stated that they provided regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability. This comprises 4.4% of the county’s population in April 2016.

Going back to the young age of the carers, a response to a parliamentary question stated that there are at least 138 carers aged under 15 years, a shocking figure. This is a situation that demands immediate examination. These statistics demonstrate the clear need for Government to prioritise and fully resource carers' needs and to ensure they are provided with every level of assistance possible.

With a sector of our society providing more than 250,000 hours of care every week, it is very clear the work they are doing is of fundamental importance. That must be reflected in the Government's approach to carers and their families. The carers had an event this morning in Buswells as they do every year. We have plenty of patronising talk about how great they are. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and others have said, it is ridiculous how long it takes for an application to be processed. I salute Jim Molloy, the manager of carers in south Tipperary and his colleagues, along with all the care givers. It is time for the Government to pony up and put its money where its mouth is. Pious platitudes are no good. The Government needs to give support and respect to the family carers. It needs to shorten the waiting time for applications.

I support the motion. I want to focus on one aspect of the issue relating to the submission made by Family Carers Ireland, FCI, in respect of the transport and mobility scheme. The mobility allowance and motorised transport grant was withdrawn in 2013. I quote from a very sensible submission it made, which states:

The failure to replace the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Schemes, withdrawn in 2013 on the grounds of age discrimination, has led to the illogical situation whereby those who received a Mobility Allowance prior to 2013 have been allowed to keep it while others now equally in need are locked out. It also means that the only transport support available is the Disabled Drivers and Passengers Scheme, which is targeted only at those with severe physical disabilities, with no support available to those with an intellectual disability.

This prioritises the needs of people with physical disabilities over those with an intellectual disability and is subject to legal challenge.

That sums up the issue.

I am Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who has responsibility for disabilities, appeared before the committee in October 2017. At that stage he was promising a transport scheme. Last year in May 2018, a memorandum was brought to the Government on the same issue with proposals for a transport-support payment scheme which did not seem to pass muster at the Cabinet and they were asked to go away and look at the issue again. In January 2019 the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, stated:

I intend to revert to Government in due course with revised proposals to reflect the discussions at that Cabinet meeting and further discussions between myself and Minister Harris on the best way to progress the Transport Scheme.

I do not understand the role of the Minister of State in the Government. I know what his title is but I feel strongly that he has delivered absolutely nothing for the people he is supposed to serve. This is a typical example of a Government kicking to touch an issue it promised to legislate and provide for. It is a very specific issue but it affects people in a complex way.

The spirit of this motion from our party reflects a sensible set of recommendations from Family Carers Ireland. If the Minister of State gives the excuse that there are little or no resources, we will take that with a pinch of salt. The rainy day fund is an example of that. Money can be found for that particular scheme to ensure that those in need are provided for. It would not take a pile of money to do this, given that on numerous occasions, including at Cabinet meetings, the Minister of State has said that he would provide for the replacement of the 2013 scheme. In my short submission, I call on him to deliver on his promise. When it comes to this agenda, the Minister of State has disappeared. He is kicking everything to touch.

I could go on and on about the families I deal with on a daily basis and their sons and daughters with intellectual disabilities who cannot access even a night of respite. As Deputies, we have had conversations with the CEOs of the service providers and then have gone back to the HSE and the Government but we cannot get honest, decent answers to the questions we put forward. All we want is to represent the people who elected us. All they are asking for, on behalf of their families, is the dignity of being able to access respite care for their loved ones.

The Minister of State has gone to ground and I fail to understand it. The Labour Party made decisions in government and we paid a price for it but this is a time of relative plenty; the resources are there. I understand the Government has to make provision for things such as Brexit but I do not understand why, in the times in which we live, we cannot provide for those who do not have a strong voice for themselves.

I welcome the people to the Visitors Gallery, many of whom are family carers. I thank Members of other parties who have expressed support for this motion, which I believe will be passed by the Dáil tomorrow afternoon; I certainly hope so. We tabled the motion to get action. As did Deputy Penrose, who spoke so passionately about the cases he knows, I attended a regional meeting in Limerick on 29 April. There were hundreds of family carers there in absolute desperation but who had managed to make arrangements and get away to attend the meeting in order that we would have an understanding of their plight. They wrote down five priorities and one that struck me was that they want to move from understanding and sympathy to action. That is what we want to achieve through this motion and, therefore, I welcome the support of others.

I want to see Government action on this, because what it has committed to is minimal. We are coming up to the budgetary cycle and we want to see real commitments in the budget to address these issues. I reiterate what Deputy Joan Collins said: it is much more important to give carers a decent quality of life and income than to cut taxes. Whatever priorities we have in this country, let us prioritise carers.

In the short time available to me, I want to talk about two matters of justice, namely, the income disregard and the fact that it is taxable. Many other social welfare payments are not taxable and there are many income disregards that do not apply to carer's allowance. We want to see the income disregard increase and the introduction of other measures to allow the many carers who do not get carer's allowance to get into the net, which is important.

In the long term, we want to see a plan to abolish the means test. These people are workers and they work an awful lot more than 35 hours per week; in some cases, they are working round the clock. We heard harrowing stories of the tough role for those caring for children who wake every half hour at night. Another person who spoke at that meeting, who I know, has for years been caring for an adult son and gets absolutely no money because of the means test. It is not enough to sympathise; we absolutely have to move to action.

I will refer to a few things that have perhaps not got as much attention as others. The first is the issue of increasing the hours that carers can work or study to 18.5 hours per week. If a carer spends 35 hours per week caring, although most spend an awful lot more, there is no reason they should not be allowed to work during the hours that, for example, the child is at school or the adult is in day care. That recommendation comes directly from the Family Carers Ireland pre-budget submission, which many of us attended this morning. I thank that organisation for the detail it provided us with.

Family Carers Ireland was very strong on the issue of the postcode lottery, whereby a carer in one area will get respite but a carer in another will not, or will get a housing adaptation grant in one area but have to wait two or three years in another. That is wrong; people should have these things as a right. We deliberately framed our motion in a rights-based context and referred to United Nations conventions and so on. We need to start looking at this as issues of right, not things for which people must constantly fight, on top of all the other things in their lives they must do.

I want to raise a specific issue from my constituency. The St. Gabriel's Centre, which caters for people with disabilities, has through fundraising built a beautiful respite home at the edge of Limerick. It serves a wide region of not just the mid-west but further. While I acknowledge the HSE has given the centre some funding to manage, the St. Gabriel's Centre does not have the money to open the respite centre. It would make such a difference to many families in my part of the country.

However, this motion is about carers in all parts of the country, who do so much in looking after their loved ones and in saving the State money, at great damage to their own health and well-being. The do it because these people are their loved ones, but that is not enough any more. We have to respond. We are coming up to a budget and we need definite commitments to action. That is why we have tabled this motion.

I thank my constituency colleague, Deputy O'Dea, who said that Fianna Fáil will support the motion, which I welcome. That means that with the support of other Opposition parties, we will get this motion through tomorrow. We want to see Government action quickly and in the longer term, we want to see the means test abolished.

I acknowledge this important motion and the contribution that family carers make throughout the State in caring for their loved ones. Recently, I attended a Family Carers Ireland roadshow, which set out the incredible work of carers, day by day, week by week. When one considers the changing demographics we face, ones sees that as a Government, we have to set out a roadmap of how we are going to respond to these challenges.

I acknowledge the huge work done by Deputy Penrose throughout his career in advocating for carers. As someone who shares a constituency with the Deputy, I have seen him push for carers and bring major policy decisions to the table during difficult times in this State. He spelled out clearly the important correlation between taxation and improved services. It is not often we hear such honesty in the Chamber from someone speaking to a motion.

Small changes can make a huge difference, be it credit for the State contributory pension, which currently is not in place, or increasing the exemption to work to 18.5 hours.

These are not costly things but can make a significant difference to people, their lives and the care they deliver.

On a broader point, the postcode lottery has been pointed to for a long time by the association. As someone who is on the ground assisting potential applicants for a carer's allowance through oral appeals and a process that can be stressful when someone has a sick relative or friend to deal with, I believe we need to support them as best we can and set out that plan.

I would like to start by expressing the admiration that, l am sure, all Members of this House have for family carers. Every day, tens of thousands of people provide care for parents, children, partners, family members and others. They come from various different walks of life and began their caring responsibilities at different stages of their lives. It is only right that we recognise the value and contribution made by family carers in the healthcare system.

Supports for the carers of people are also vital as, in many ways, the needs of the carer are interlinked with the cared-for person. Respite care is particularly important as it enables carers to take up or to maintain work, education, leisure and training opportunities or just time for themselves. This year alone, the HSE’s disability service budget of €1.9 billion will provide 8,568 residential places, 22,272 day places, 182,506 respite overnight stays, 32,662 day respite sessions, 1.63 million personal assistant hours for 2,535 people, and 3.08 million home support hours for 8,094 people.

In older persons’ services, €446 million will be spent on the delivery of 18.2 million hours of care through home support and intensive home care packages. The development of a new, stand-alone statutory scheme and system of regulation for home support services is a long-standing objective of the Government. This is currently progressing in line with the Sláintecare implementation strategy. The new scheme will improve access to adult home support services that people need in an equitable, affordable and sustainable way. It will be designed to support carers and will complement and integrate effectively with other health and social care services.

Promoting a better awareness and understanding of the contribution of carers and their needs is also crucial to ensuring that we develop the right kinds of services to support carers within and outside of their caring role. The annual carer’s forum is a key success of the national carers' strategy, which enables policymakers to meet with family carers and to hear their concerns.

The HSE also provides funding to groups which offer support and information to carers and family members. In addition, the HSE has provided support for the establishment of mental health engagement fora, which offer an opportunity for carers and family members to have a say.

There have been a range of improvements made to financial supports for carers in the past number of years. When a carer’s full-time role comes to an end, either as a result of bereavement or the permanent admission of the care recipient to a residential care setting, carer’s allowance continues to be paid for a period of 12 weeks, doubling the previous length of continued payment. This measure offers a period of financial certainty during a time of personal upheaval at the end of the caring role.

Since June 2017, all children in receipt of a domiciliary care allowance are eligible for a medical card without a means test. Since September 2018, free GP visit cards have been extended to persons in receipt of the carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit, at both full and half rates. This will ensure that carers themselves are supported to protect their own physical, mental and emotional well-being.

The recent annual increases in carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit this year highlight the Government’s commitment to maintain financial supports for carers.

The Government considers that while many parts of the motion are valid in principle, it is not possible to offer full support. The motion would have a significant impact and the Government must manage its budget in a prudent manner. Increasing the income disregard for carer’s allowance from €332.50 to €450 for a single person and €665 to €900 for a couple would cost the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection approximately €73 million.

The conditions attached to payment of carer’s allowance are consistent with the overall conditions that apply to social assistance payments generally. This system of social assistance support 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 it illness, disability, unemployment or caring.

While the measures outlined illustrate the significant progress made to date in implementing the carers' strategy, I am aware that we can do more to meet the needs of carers and foster a climate in which they feel valued and supported to continue in their caring roles. As mentioned, the 2012 national carers’ strategy remains relevant and the policy direction is still valid. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, does not believe that a new carers’ strategy is therefore the best way forward, rather we should intensify our efforts to realise the objectives of the strategy.

The Minister has asked officials in the Department of Health to continue to engage with all relevant Departments and Government agencies to build opportunities to strengthen the implementation of the strategy to ensure that we keep the needs of carers to the fore as we prepare for the 2020 Estimates process.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion, which I support. Care work is a vocation. Carers put in hours and hours to help their loved ones and close relatives, be they young children, middle aged or elderly. Sometimes, in desperate situations, carers are looking for respite help and it is not out there. Take, for example, a child with autism whose parent is his or her carer. That parent might be looking for some place for a weekend, to get a break, and the services are not available in some parts of the country.

There is another part of this issue that needs addressing. I have seen people working in Dublin whose mother or father may get sick down in the country. Because of the respect and love such a person has for his or her mother or father, that person leaves Dublin to go home and look after his or her mother or father in his or her time of need. Such people might have a house in Dublin or a spouse who was working, which will be included in a means test. Such people will be told they cannot be in Dublin and in the west at the same time and will be refused carer's allowance. The process that has to be gone through is long and laboured, especially if an application is refused and must be appealed. It goes on and on. Do we not realise that such people are saving the State money by going to look after their loved ones? They may have given up a job and a life to do that in parts of the country but the State shows no respect for that. I ask the Minister of State to ensure this is addressed. I fully support the motion of the Labour Party.

I thank all the speakers who have spoken to this important motion, brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Penrose, the Labour Party spokesperson. He has a track record in this area. Everyone in this House can see the passion he has shown about this issue. I assure everyone in the House that Deputy Penrose has spoken up for carers for decades and, indeed, it is a topic to which he regularly returns in our party meetings. The Labour Party is delighted to put forward this motion.

The motion goes hand in glove with the motion that was before the House last night about home help hours and home care packages. The motions are first cousins of each other in the way we need to re-look at both of them.

To be frank, carers and the provision of home care packages and assisted hours help to save the State hundreds of millions of euro. We must re-evaluate these matters as we are getting things on the cheap with carers. I am grateful to Family Carers Ireland and Care Alliance Ireland, members of which are here, for the information they continuously provide for us to update our knowledge of this very important area.

One of our aims in bringing forward this Labour Party motion was to give carers a voice. All too often, people caring for a loved one do so in isolation. Much of the time people around here exist in a bubble. It is important, therefore, that we inform ourselves. It is also important to give people a voice, as we are doing. Given everything we have heard, we have been very successful in relating some stories of carers and getting into the nitty-gritty of the issues faced by them. This is only one step on the road to providing carers with the recognition and assistance they need. The collective actions we take from now on are most important.

Many people do not even consider themselves to be carers, as they see themselves as sons or daughters, siblings or parents who are looking after those whom they love. Practically every one of us was raised in a context of everyday care for others. Our parents or guardians looked after us as children and we reciprocate that action as we grow. My nine year old daughter, Aoibhe, was here today and I always jokingly ask her if she will mind me when I am old. Am I really joking when I ask this question? There is intergenerational care; caring for others is at the heart of what it is to be a human being.

Sometimes a person's care needs move beyond the ordinary and become frequent and more fundamental. When we speak about carers, we are referring to people who work daily to ensure someone else can meet his or her basic needs or function in daily life. People become carers in different ways; sometimes it is because of an accident or the onset of a condition which requires care, while in other cases the process is gradual, perhaps because of a health issue as a result of a physical disability, dementia or something else. That is why it is so important that as a society we and the State recognise the existence of carers as a distinct and unique group.

I will not reiterate all parts of the motion, but the bottom line is that carers need the State to support them, not replace them, and provide practical assistance to meet their own needs. It is as simple as that, but sometimes it seems that we lose sight of this basic objective. Too much emphasis is placed by the State on application forms, means testing and waiting lists, as we also heard last night. We all know that the State must manage limited resources and distribute them as fairly as possible, but it has gone too far. I submitted a parliamentary question that was answered yesterday. I was contacted by a number of people who told me that the number of inspections related to carer's allowance had increased rapidly this year. I asked the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for the number, but, amazingly, the reply was that it could not provide the statistics. That makes me nervous. It is deeply worrying as the fact that a Department cannot provide statistics for its own reviews indicates that it is not functioning properly.

Why do we have a means test for full-time carers? We know that regardless of their means, every full-time carer provides a valuable service that would cost the State several times more to provide than the carer's allowance of €219. With full-time carers providing care for an average of nearly 45 hours a week, someone on the national minimum wage would have to be paid €441 for those 45 hours of work, even before taking account of employers' social insurance, materials, management and all other costs. It could easily cost three or four times the level of carer's allowance to provide professional care workers. Clearly, it would be more cost-effective to support family carers. Why, therefore, do we still maintain a means test that throws up administrative and cost barriers that may make it impossible for some to take up the role, as mentioned ad nauseam here?

There is room for us to reconsider what we regard as appropriate in this state. There is no need to be so strict about stopping people from accessing financial assistance. We must ensure everything is done right, but we do not have to continue the manner in which we are doing this. As the population ages and care work becomes even more commonplace, we must consider whether we are making the decision to engage in full-time care even more challenging. That would be bad for the taxpayer, as it would cost the State more. Outside the fact that it is wrong, it would be financially insane. Let us change it.

The State should consider introducing a minimum income guarantee for everybody in the State in order that people would know that the decision to care for a loved one would not leave them without an income. We have serious challenges in the country in how we treat carers and must change the way we think about the matter. That is why we need a new national carer strategy with a long-term perspective. As a society, we must make a strong and unambiguous statement on solidarity and appreciation of the work done by carers of all ages. We need to say to carers loud and clear that they are not alone and that we really cherish them. As a decent and democratic society, we should commit to working together to ensure the people who need care will receive all the support we can give and that people who provide care will be be valued and assisted. We must also ensure carers receive paid leave; five days of paid leave would not be too much to ask. By 2022 we will have to provide it under the European Union work-life balance directive; therefore, we may as well skip ahead and do it now.

I am grateful to all of the Deputies who have spoken in favour of the Labour Party's motion. I acknowledge that the Government has recognised the valuable contribution of carers, although at times the response was a little defensive and we could argue the toss on many of the stated facts. I also acknowledge the contribution made by the other Government representative who acknowledged that we had to look at the matter in a different way. There are grounds for a renewed cross-party consensus on it. There are some issues on which we must jump a little above politics, this Chamber and the bubble of Leinster House; this is one of them. Perhaps the motion will stimulate us into pushing forward with this agenda that we in the Labour Party want to pursue, with others, in supporting carers by practical means. We can make changes not over one year but a number of years to make their lives better, support them, make them more financially stable and put them in a position where they would be able to look after loved ones in a fairer way. The State supports do not go far enough and we have outlined our reasons. The existing system of State supports is too rigid, with too many rules and requirements that unnecessarily restrict people's ability to balance care work with studies or paid work. Too many carers are suffering burnout, as I have witnessed, and serious ill-health caused by the stress and strain of their care work. We need to implement proposals. I hope the Government will accept the need to have a deeper national dialogue on the issue of carers and care work. Regardless of its amendment which I know will be defeated because the motion has the support needed to be passed, I hope the Government will facilitate that national dialogue in the coming months. If it does not, we, in the Labour Party, will ensure it will have no choice in the matter.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 27 June 2019.