The main income supports for carers provided by my Department include Carer's Allowance, Carer's Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance, and the Carer's Support Grant. At the end of April, there were 89,549 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance and the estimated expenditure on Carer's Allowance in 2021 is approximately €953 million. In total, over 135,000 carers benefit from regular income supports and combined spending on these payments in 2021 is expected to be in the region of €1.5 billion. The value of income transfers to family carers has increased by over 50% since 2015.
Carer's Allowance acts as an income support for those who cannot earn adequate income in the open labour market due to their caring responsibilities. This allowance is part of the system of social assistance supports that provide payments based on an income need. The means test plays a critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency – such as disability, unemployment or caring. This ensures that the recipient has a verifiable income need and that resources are targeted to those who need them most.
A comprehensive Policy Review of Carer’s Allowance, including an examination of the means test, was prepared by my Department and was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas at the end of August 2019. In addition, in August 2019, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published a Spending Review of Carer’s Supports, including Carer's Allowance. Among its key findings was that of the €1.04bn spent on Carer’s Support Programmes in 2018, Carer’s Allowance accounted for 77% of total support spend on carers. Given how little time has elapsed since these two in-depth reports on carer’s schemes were published, I do not propose to conduct another review on the area at this time.
The means test for Carer's Allowance is one of the most generous in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. The amount of weekly earnings disregarded is €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. By comparison, the income disregard applied to Disability Allowance is €120 per week. As per Budget 2021 this will increase to €140 per week from June 2021. For Jobseeker's Allowance, it is €20 per day up to a maximum of €60, and the balance is assessed at 60%. For Jobseeker's Transitional Payment, the weekly income disregard is €165 with 50% of the balance assessed as means.
Changes to schemes are considered in an overall expenditure and policy context and from an evidence-based perspective. Those existing carers whose sole income is the Carer’s Allowance would not benefit from an increase in the means disregard. This proposal would benefit just 3% of carers and benefit better-off families. Increases to the disregard would result in the provision of additional payments to people who may have significant sources of income while reducing the scope to provide income supports to lower income households.
I can assure the Deputy that I am very much aware of the key role that family carers play in our society and I will continue to keep the range of supports available to carers under review. However, any improvements or additions to these supports can only be considered in an overall budgetary context and in the light of available financial resources.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.