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home care crisis

'They've been ignored by this government': Budget disappointment prompts carers to protest outside Dáil

Carers say the government has “given it with one hand and taken it back with the other” with its latest budget.

FAMILY CARERS ARE staging a protest outside Leinster House today to voice their frustration that the budget failed to take meaningful steps to tackle the “home care crisis”.

One measure Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe took in last week’s budget saw the number of hours a carer could work or study outside the home increased, from 15 hours a week up to 18.5 hours a week.

However Family Carers Ireland, which represents people who work in the home caring for a dependent person, say that the decision not to also increase the Income Disregard for Carers Allowance means that a carer who works extra hours could have their allowance cut if their income increases too much due to the extra work.

“They’ve given it with one hand and taken it back with the other,” Family Carers Ireland spokeswoman, Catherine Cox explained.

“I don’t believe that was intentional, but now we’re saying that they absolutely increase the Income Disregard for Carers Allowance because it hasn’t actually been reformed or moved for 11 years.

It hasn’t kept with the cost of living and the minimum wage. Carers have gone backwards, as a result, rather than forwards.

Means testing

Home carers who apply for the allowance are means tested, meaning that a spouse’s income is examined as well as the carer. If the income exceeds €332.50 per week for a single person or €665 per week for a couple they may only be entitled to a reduced allowance or no payment at all.

Cox says that means testing results in just one in five carers receiving the allowance. The group represents 355,000 carers around Ireland but only around 70,000 of them are eligible for the allowance because of the strict criteria.

“That couple could have maybe two, three children, maybe a child with a disability. They obviously have all their outgoings like their mortgage, their costs of care, travel, expenses.

So you might look at €665 and think that’s a high Income Disregard but really when you take into account the cost of care it isn’t and it means that many families are denied a Carer’s Allowance despite the fact that a member of the family is caring full-time for a loved one.

Cox added that anyone receiving the payment is providing full-time care and in many cases they are working over 50, or even over 100, hours per week.

Because of these intensive hours she argues that Carers Allowance should be taken out of the remit of Social Protection and a payment should be made for the work carers do.

Ahead of the budget Family Carers Ireland campaigned for the Income Disregard to be increased to €450 for a single person and €900 per couple. Cox said the fact that it wasn’t changed it all has left carers deeply angry and sparked today’s demonstration:

We thought they would go some way towards that but we got nothing. They didn’t even look at the Income Disregard in the budget. That’s what was so disappointing for carers.

‘Post code lottery’

Carers are also subject to a postcode lottery, where one area might have good support services, while in another there will be nothing. The group is also looking for this issue to be addressed and says it makes financial sense to do so.

“We asked that they eliminate the post-code lottery and put basic supports for all family carers in their community. And actually the cost of that is quite small; it’s about €3.2 million per year,” Cox said.

When you take into account the €10 billion that family care saves the state every year, that is a very small amount of money to address a very large issue.

Minister Donohoe’s budget also provided funding for one million additional hours of homecare. This was welcomed by Family Care Ireland but it noted that it fell far short of the estimated 4.4 million hours that were required to meet the current waiting list and demand that exists.

A forthcoming report from the group shows that thousands are reaching burnout because they are not getting the required support.

“83% of carers who were surveyed were not getting appropriate respite. There’s such a crisis, and pressure, on family carers and again they’ve been ignored by this government,” Cox said.

The protest will take place outside the gates of Leinster House from 11am until midday.

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