Carers getting a raw deal

April 22nd, 2008 - Pat Breen

Carers getting a raw deal – BREEN.

Fine Gael’s Deputy Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Clare T.D. Pat Breen said today that in spite of recent increases in the Carers Allowance and Carers Benefit, Carers continue to get a raw deal. Deputy Breen is urging the Government to review the financial supports available to carers and recognise the invaluable contribution they are making to our communities.

“Earlier this month there was a slight increase in the income thresholds for recipients of Carers Allowance and Carers Benefit. A single person can now earn up to €332 a week while a couple can earn up to €665 a week with the thresholds going up from €320 and €640 a week respectively, while any increase is welcome it does little to help carers throughout this County who are struggling to cope”.

“The majority of Carers are women and the biggest single problem they face is the fact that in order to quality for any allowance, they face a means test. Under the present system many of those Carers do not quality for the payment on the basis of their partner’s earnings and in many cases when they do quality they are offered derisory amounts. In my view they should be individually assessed for Carers Allowance and the carer’s partner’s income should be excluded from the means test.”

“Some Carers I have met in recent times are looking after children with special needs. On the one hand the Government is forking out millions of euro in defending legal cases against the State while refusing to assist those parents who are most in need. According to recent media reports they have spent €22m fighting court battles against parents seeking educational help for their children with special needs over the past five years. This money could have been better spent improving the delivery of services to special needs children and their carers. This Government is great at talking the talk, but what about walking the walk.”

“The other big issue for Carers is their eligibility for a medical card which is also means tested. I recently raised this matter with the Minister and she advised me that she is currently reviewing all legislation relating to eligibility for health and personal social services and that this is expected to be completed before the end of the year.”

“Caring is a vocation and many people throughout County Clare are dedicating their lives to a career of Caring. Many of those Carers particularly in rural isolated areas tell me that one of their biggest frustrations is the lack of back-up assistance. I am working with several carers who need extra home help hours in order to facilitate a two-week respite break.”

“Minister Harney says that she is “satisfied that the prioritised funding made available this year will assist the HSE in meeting increasing demands on its Home Help Service”, yet the reality on the ground is very difficult. When several of my constituents have applied for extra home help hours they get the standard reply “there are no hours available at this time, as the service is operating at the maximum budget allocation”. Only today, I have been advised by the HSE in the case of a constituent of mine who had requested additional personal assistance hours that the HSE has been “Instructed to achieve a break-even position this year and that “there is a very high demand for this service and the demand far outwighs the funding provided.” They have informed me that have received an extra allocation of €117,000 recently, however, they have a long waiting list of people vieing for these funds. This year the Minister has added an extra €5m towards 200,000 extra Home Help hours, nevertheless this funding has not translated into extra home help hours for my constituents here in County Clare.”

“I am appealing to Minister Harney to recognise the role of carers during this current review, they are the unsung heroes of our communities and Government policies should reflect and respect their role.”

See Parliamentary Questions underneath for your information.

QUESTION NO: 229

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Ms. Hoctor)

by Deputy Pat Breen

for WRITTEN ANSWER on 02/04/2008

* To ask the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide extra funding for additional home help hours to facilitate a two week respite break for home carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Pat Breen

REPLY.

The Home Help service nationally is a well established and successful component of this Government’s strategy to provide a range of services to enable older people to remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. In this context, and in order to address increasing demands in the specific area of Home Helps in recent years, approximately €56 million additional funding has been provided for service improvements over the three years 2006-8. This has enabled the provision of 11.3 million Home Help hours by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2006 and 11.7 million hours in 2007.

Budget 2008 provided significant additional current funding of €22 million to cover a range of new community-based initiatives for Older People. This includes a sum of €5 million for this year towards 200,000 extra Home Help hours.

This will bring the expected number of Home Help hours nationally to some 11.98 million in 2008. Bearing in mind all the circumstances, I am satisfied that the prioritised funding made available this year will assist the HSE in meeting increasing demands on its Home Help service.

An extra €3.6m has also been provided, arising from the recent Budget, to enhance DayCare/Respite services in 2008. The HSE has allocated €1.1m of this for an additional 345 Day Care places, bringing the total number of such places nationally to around 21,640 by year end. A sum of €2.5m is being made available by the Executive to benefit 1,245 new Respite Care clients in the current year.

I will of course, in conjunction with the HSE, continue to monitor the delivery of these various new services to ensure that provision is maximised across the country.

QUESTION NO: 228

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Health and Children (Ms. Harney (Dublin Mid-West))

by Deputy Pat Breen

for WRITTEN ANSWER on 02/04/2008

* To ask the Minister for Health and Children if medical cards will be made available to carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Pat Breen T.D.

REPLY.

The assessment of eligibility to medical cards is statutorily a matter for the Health Service Executive (HSE) and, with the exception of persons aged over 70 who have an automatic entitlement to a medical card, is determined following an examination of the means of the applicant and his/her dependants. Under Section 45 of the Health Act, 1970 medical cards are provided for persons who, in the opinion of the HSE, are unable without undue hardship to arrange general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants.

In assessing eligibility, the HSE uses guidelines based on people’s means, which includes their income, certain allowable outgoings and the effect of other factors which may impact on people’s ability to meet the cost of GP services. There are also a number of income sources, including the Carer’s Allowance, which are disregarded in assessing an applicant’s income. Furthermore, people whose sole source of income is from social welfare or HSE allowances and benefits are allowed a medical card.

My Department is currently reviewing all legislation relating to eligibility for health and personal social services with a view to making the system as fair and transparent as possible. As part of this exercise, a review of the eligibility criteria for medical cards in the context of financial, medical and social need is being undertaken and is expected to be completed by autumn 2008.