Seanad Éireann - Volume 175 - 24 February, 2004
Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Feighan Mr. Feighan
Mr. Feighan: I am anxious that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs outline why a family member who remains at home to care for an elderly parent or relative is disqualified from receiving carer’s allowance if he or she works for a few hours on the small family farm. The carer’s allowance has been most successful but farmers, particularly small farmers, are finding it increasingly difficult to comply with the hour rule that applies.
Family carers provide high levels of care at home for children, older people, those who are terminally ill and people with long-term serious illnesses. The carer’s life centres around the needs of these people and he or she must be constantly available. Over the past year I have attended a number of oral hearings on behalf of small farmers who have not qualified for the carer’s allowance. The Carers Association reckons that carers save the State €380 per week on alternative residential care and, depending on the level of nursing care, the saving can be more than €1,200 per week.
Sons and daughters of elderly parents who must work on the farm cannot comply with the regulations. A small farm cannot be run successfully on less than ten hours per week. This is the reason I appeal to the Department to increase the number of hours a person is allowed to work outside the home from ten hours to 20 hours. This is a reasonable request from a section of the population which finds it difficult to comply with the current criteria. I ask the Minister to look at this provision more carefully for the sake of rural Ireland and small farmers. The Minister will have my support if he changes this anomaly.
Mr. B. Lenihan Mr. B. Lenihan
Mr. B. Lenihan: I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. The carer’s allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who provide certain elderly or incapacitated persons with full-time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit.
One of the principal conditions for receipt of the allowance is that full-time care and attention is required and is provided by the carer. As I understand the issue, the interpretation of this condition is at the nub of the problem the Senator outlined to the House. Under the legislative provisions full-time care and attention means that the care recipient must be so disabled as to require continuous supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with his or her normal personal needs. In addition, the care recipient must be so disabled as to be likely to require this care for at least 12 months.
The Department takes the view that full-time care and attention does not necessarily mean 24 hours in each day. Full-time care and attention can be considered to apply where there is an ongoing and daily commitment by the carer, equivalent to that of a full day’s work and which also generally results in the carer not being able to support himself or herself through normal full-time employment.
Accordingly, carer’s allowance applications are assessed on an individual basis and the current arrangements are applied in a flexible manner, having due regard to the needs of the carer, the person requiring care and within the legislative provisions that apply. Special measures were introduced in 1999 to allow carers to engage in employment or self-employment for up to ten hours per week while still meeting the conditions. This being said, the carer’s allowance scheme is designed for full-time carers and part-time carers do not fall within the scheme objectives.
In instances where a carer is engaged in farm activity, such cases are, in normal circumstances, investigated by investigating officers of the Department to establish whether the full-time care and attention condition is being fulfilled. The matters which are the subject of this debate appear to be related to the social welfare entitlements of a particular unspecified individual. As the Senator is aware, under social welfare legislation decisions on claims or entitlements must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. As is the case with all statutory social welfare entitlements, where a person is dissatisfied with a decision of a deciding officer regarding a claim for carer’s allowance, he or she has a right of appeal to the independent social welfare appeals office.
The development of a range of supports for carers has been a priority of the Government for a number of years. During that time it has increased expenditure on carers’ payments by 310% — from €46.36 million in 1997 to an estimated €190 million at the end of 2003. The number of carers on the carer’s allowance is up by almost 140% since the Government came into office in 1997 and is now almost 22,000. Also, the rate of carer’s allowance has been increased by 76% or €68.28 for those over 66 and by 56% or €50.08 for those under 66. The qualification conditions for carer’s allowance have also been significantly improved.
Government policy continues to be strongly in favour of supporting care in the community and enabling people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. To this end, my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, recently established a working group to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme. One of the objectives of this review will be to examine the issue of home care and to make recommendations for the funding of home care as an alternative to long-term residential care.
In 2003, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs launched a consultancy study on the future financing of long-term care. Significant issues are discussed in the study, including those regarding benefit design and cost and financing of long-term care. In order to make progress on these areas, officials are currently preparing a consultation document to accompany the study. This document will focus all interested parties on the specific issues we need to address. On completion of the consultation process, a working group, which will include all relevant parties, will examine the policy, cost and service delivery issues associated with the care of older people.
The State cannot and would not wish to replace the personal support and care provided within the family and the community. Therefore, its primary role is to provide adequate support to carers and to those for whom they care, to enable them to remain in their own communities for as long as possible. Building on the foundations now in place, we will continue to develop the types of services which recognise the value of the caring ethos and which provide real support and practical assistance to carers.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 February 2004.
Seanad Éireann 175 Social Welfare Benefits.