Dáil Éireann - Volume 477 - 17 April, 1997

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

[1566] 136. Mr. L. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social Welfare his views on whether the State's contribution to our 6,917 carers in the 1997 budget proposals for carer's allowance increases is inadequate and unfair in view of their contribution to the care of the incapacitated; his views on whether this package of increases, as announced in the 1997 budget, fails to take account of or reflect the degree of incapacitation in each case and will inevitably give rise to anomalies and injustices; if he will take adequate account of these aspects of the anomalies and injustices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10240/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The carer's allowance is a social assistance scheme which provides an income maintenance payment of people who are providing elderly or incapacitated pensioners or certain disabled persons with full-time care and attention and whose incomes fall below certain limits. At the end of last January, the numbers availing of the scheme totalled 8,548.

Last year the weekly personal rate of the carer's allowance was increased by £5 to £67.50 representing an increase of 8 per cent on the previous year's rate. In this year's budget I announced that the weekly rate being increased by a further £3.00 from next June. Provision is also being made from next June for the payment of an additional amount equivalent to 50 per cent of the existing entitlement, to carers who are looking after more than one person.

For example, a person who is caring for an elderly and incapacitated couple, and who would currently qualify for the new maximum personal rate allowance of £70.50 per week will, as a result of this measure, receive an additional £35.25 per week, bringing the total weekly income to £105.75.

Since coming into office, I have also provided for a number of other improvements in the carer's allowance scheme. In 1995, for instance, the weekly disregard of £100 in respect of the earnings of the carer's spouse was increased to £150 a week and the scheme was further improved with the inclusion of carers who look after the recipents of occupational pensions. Last year, I introduced new regulations to change the basis of assessment of means of carers for the purpose of determining entitlement to rent and mortgage interest supplements under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. As a result of these changes, carers who are receiving rent or mortgage interest supplements from the health boards can now benefit by as much as £29 per week. I have also provided for the award of a free travel companion pass to existing pass holders who are being cared for by a recipient of the carer's allowance. The pass allows the carer to travel free when accompanying the person being cared for. The further development of the carer's allowance is currently being examined in the context of a [1567] review of the allowance which is being carried out by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Health having regard to general health care provision in the home for elderly and disabled people requiring care. In this regard, all aspects of the current operation of the carer's allowance are being considered in the light of experience to date. The findings contained in the recently published reports of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights entitled “A Long-Term Support Framework for Female Carers of Older People and People with Disabilities; 1996 — 2011” and the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities are also being taken into account in this review.

Both myself and this Government are committed to ensuring the development of supports for those caring for people at home. We recognise that they provide not only a valuable community service but also a quality of care which is difficult to replicate in an institutional setting. The Deputy can be assured that carers will continue to be a priority for this Government.