Dáil Éireann - Volume 619 - 11 May, 2006

Written Answers. - Care of the Elderly.

Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, The Position of Full-Time Carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17381/06]

[724] Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress on improving the situation for young carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17689/06]

Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made to date in his consideration of those recommendations of the NESF report on care for older people for which his Department has responsibility and in particular the recommendation of a broad based group to develop a national strategy for carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17373/06]

Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Question No. 19 of 2 February 2006, if his Department has completed its examination of Barnardos' research into young carers; if his Department has come to conclusions on supports for young carers as a result of same; the action he intends to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17680/06]

Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions he or his Department officials have had with other Departments in relation to young carers; the issues discussed in these discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17688/06]

  Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 50, 56, 65 and 74 together.

Supporting and recognising carers in our society has been a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have been greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer’s allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer’s benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. I have examined the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s Report on the Position of Full-Time Carers, which was published in November 2003. This valuable report makes a range of recommendations, many of which relate to my Department and a number of which concern the Department of Health and Children. In response to the Committee, who stated that the greatest need identified by family carers is the need for a break from caring, I made provision to improve and extend the respite care grant in the following ways:

— Provision was made in 2005 for the extension of the grant to all carers who are providing full time care to a person who needs such care regardless of their source of income or their means.

— The grant is now paid in respect of each person receiving care.

[725] — Most recently in Budget 2006, provision was made to increase the amount of the respite care grant from EUR 1,000 to EUR 1,200, from June 2006.

To date, over 34,000 respite care grants have been paid by my Department and applications for the grant continue to be received.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee’s report also recommends the development of a national strategy for family carers, as does the report of the National Economic and Social Forum ‘Care for Older People’. The Carer’s Association have published a strategy document “Towards a Family Carer’s Strategy” which outlines a range of objectives and actions covering a range of areas and Government Departments. The issues raised in the NESF’s report and in the Carer’s Association’s Strategy were included in the deliberations of the Long-Term Care Working Group. The report of this Working Group is being considered by the Government. However, work has already commenced in implementing the recommendations of this report with the announcement in Budget 2006 by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children of EUR150 million in funding for 2006/7 for home support packages and other community-based services. The report also influenced the social welfare Budget package, in which I announced significant improvements in supports for carers. These improvements include the biggest ever increases in the rates of payment to carers:

— the rate of carer’s allowance increased by EUR26.40 to EUR180 per week for a carer under age 66, and

— the rate for carers over age 66 increased by EUR30.20 to EUR 200 per week, making it the largest single welfare support payment,

— the rate of carer’s benefit increased by EUR17.00 to EUR180.70 per week.

These represent increases of over 17% for recipients of carer’s allowance and serve to acknowledge and support the invaluable work of our family carers. In addition, from June this year, I am increasing the number of hours that a carer may work and still receive a carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit or respite care grant from 10 to 15 hours per week. I have extended the duration of the carer’s benefit scheme from 15 months to two years. The duration of the associated carer’s leave scheme has also been extended to two years. In line with the Government commitment to expanding the income limits for the carer’s allowance so that all those on average industrial incomes can qualify, I increased the weekly income disregards to EUR 290 for a single person and to EUR 580 for a couple from last month. This means that a couple with two children can earn up to EUR 32,925 and receive the maximum rate of carer’s allowance while the same couple can earn up to EUR 54,400 and receive the mini[726] mum rate of carer’s allowance, free travel, the household benefits package of free schemes and the respite care grant.

With regard to younger carers, I have studied the relevant Barnardos’ research and I was particularly struck by the fact that of the estimated 3,000 young carers who are providing some care, there are over 300 carers between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age who are providing full-time care. I accept that special help, advice and support is essential for these younger carers who are caring for a parent and in particular, that services must be put in place to support the household and to ensure that young carers remain at school. These include the services of home helps, public health nurses and home care packages generally, which are a matter for my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children. As I already stated, there has been a significant increase in the funding for these services in the last Budget.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. I will continue to review the issues raised by the Joint Oireachtas Committee and other bodies representing carers and I will continue to strive to bring forward proposals that recognise and support the valued and valuable contribution of all carers in a tangible way.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 42.