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'We save the country billions but are held to ransom for having a good heart'

Over 200,000 family carers in Ireland currently deliver nearly €4 billion worth of care annually.


“HUNDREDS OF CARERS in this country are held to ransom because we do something out of love and I think that’s the biggest insult.

If we dumped all our loved ones, young and old, on the doorsteps of our hospitals tomorrow morning, what have the government put in place?

“That’s what we as family carers are doing, we’re taking the pressure off them.”

Shirley Thornton became a full-time carer to both her parents six years ago and managed to secure a home care package two years ago. Her father passed away in May of this year and now she cares for her mother while also raising her 10-year-old son.

Shirley Thornton Shirley Thornton with her parents and son.

Since the death of her father, her family’s care time has been reduced from 20 hours a week to 10 hours.

Thornton is grateful for the time she has but says it isn’t enough. When she asked about getting more hours, she was simply told the budget in her area was exhausted.

Home help hours were continuously cut during Ireland’s austerity budgets in a bid to balance the nation’s books but carers say they can no longer cope with the current situation.

Between 2008 and 2015, the budget for disability health services was reduced by €159.4 million.

The Disability Federation of Ireland says home help hours, carer’s allowance and disability grants all suffered to make those cuts.

However, in the past five years the total expenditure on carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit, domiciliary care allowance and the carer’s support grant, previously known as the respite care grant, has increased from under €752 million in 2010 to just over €877 million in 2015.

The carer’s support grant was reduced by €325 during the crises, but the annual payment was restored to its previous level of €1,700 in June of this year.

Carer’s benefit is expected to increase in the coming budget – with carer’s tax credit also expected to get a €200 boost.

A group of 17 organisations have come together ahead of Budget 2017 to call for an increase in investment to home care.

IMG_4047 Source: Cliodhna Russell

As it stand over 200,000 family carers deliver nearly €4 billion worth of care annually. Some 7,000 of those carers are caring for two or more people.

The group said that recent research shows more than half of older people could remain in their own homes instead of going into long-term care if more home support services were available.

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Increased demand

Earlier this year, some 270,000 extra home help hours were agreed along with 2,000 more home care packages.

Addressing this, Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald said, “Investment in home care packages has increased and they are not being cut back.

However, demand has increased also and while the service is reaching more people, there is still the demand in our community…the number of home care packages is increasing all the time.

Shirley Thornton also emphasised the increase in demand, stating, “We’re all living longer … that day will come when you wake up and your health will begin to deteriorate.

Pic 10

“There will be a lot more age related illnesses and a lot more people needing care.

We know economically that it’s much cheaper to keep people in their own home, living as independently as they can, then it is to keep them in a hospital bed or to have them in residential care.

Asked what she wants to see in this Budget, Thornton said, “Carers need to be recognised for what they are doing, not constantly be battered down and not respected. We save the country billions, it should be rewarded.

“We’re doing something out of love and loyalty and how we were reared, why should we be discriminated for having a good heart?”

Video by Nicky Ryan

Read: ‘At the moment it’s just horrendous out there’: The challenges facing Ireland’s carers>

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