The Government acknowledges the important role that family carers play and is fully committed to supporting carers in that role. This commitment is recognised in both the Programme for Government and the National Carers’ Strategy.
The key role of the Department of Social Protection is to provide income support where an income need arises because of a particular contingency – be that illness, disability, unemployment or caring. My Department provides a comprehensive package of carers’ income supports including Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant. Combined spending on these payments to carers in 2022 is estimated to exceed €1.5 billion.
The Carer’s Allowance is the main scheme by which my Department provides income support to carers in the community. Carer’s Allowance is a means tested payment social assistance payment awarded to those carers who are caring for certain people whose disability is such that they require full-time care and attention. The projected expenditure on Carer’s Allowance in 2022 is approximately €990 million.
In the case of a full-time carer who is caring for two or more people who require full-time care, the full rate of Carer’s Allowance may be payable along with an increase of 50% of the full rate. Carers may also, subject to certain conditions, qualify for the Household Benefits Package and a Free Travel Pass.
In terms of other forms of financial assistance available to carers to assist with additional expenses, the annual Carer’s Support Grant is available to family carers providing full-time care regardless of means. The name was changed to better reflect the use of the grant and it can be used for a variety of purposes, including to pay for respite for the care recipient, to meeting heating costs, other household bills and travel expenses. This grant is paid automatically to those in receipt of carer income supports, including Carer’s Allowance, and will be paid on the first Thursday of June. This grant is not available for any other group nor is there an equivalent payment for carers in any other country in Europe. Despite the extra financial demands due to the Covid-19 crisis, in Budget 2021, I increased the Carer’s Support Grant by €150 to its current rate of €1,850. This is the highest rate since its introduction. The estimated spend on this grant in 2022 is over €262 million.
In the situation the Deputy outlines - that of a person who is providing full-time care for multiple persons - it should be noted that in addition to the Carer's Allowance as outlined above, a full Carer's Support Grant is paid in respect of each person being cared for. This is to take account of the additional cost of providing care and to recognise the particular challenges faced by these carers.
For those in financial difficulty, the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) is also available. This is a means-tested payment available through the Department's Intreo Centres. The SWA scheme is considered the "safety net" within the overall social welfare system in that it provides assistance to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. Under the SWA scheme, the Department may award a supplement to assist with ongoing or recurring costs that cannot be met from the person's own resources and which are deemed to be necessary.
I have also introduced a number of measures as part of Budget 2022 in relation to the income supports provided by my Department. These include the following changes to the Carer's Allowance means test which will take effect in June:
- An increase in the Capital/Savings disregard for Carer’s Allowance from €20,000 to €50,000.
- An increase in the weekly income disregard for Carer’s Allowance from €332.50 to €350 a week for single carers and from €665 to €750 for carers with a spouse/partner.
In addition, the following changes also benefitting carers were announced and came into effect in January:
- €5 increase in maximum rate of all core weekly payments, with effect from January.
- €3 increase for qualified child dependants aged 12 and over and €2 for those up to age 12, in all core weekly payment.
I expect that these measures will go some way in improving the income supports to family carers, whose earning capacity is significantly constrained as a consequence of their caring responsibilities. However, any further changes to the carers payments as they are currently configured would have to considered in an overall policy and Budgetary context.
Finally, other supports for carers and people with disabilities, such as respite services and assistance with transport to and from appointments, are a matter for the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE). The HSE provides these services directly and also funds voluntary organisations to provide supports and services to individuals and their carers.
I trust this clarifies the matter.