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Opinion The health service will collapse if the exploitation of Ireland's carers isn't addressed

Carers bear a huge burden but are not being looked after.

Catherine Cox is a representative from Family Carers Ireland.

Here, she writes that the Government urgently needs to invest €110 million into the homecare sector in Budget 2020.

WHILE WE ALL recognise the threat to our economy that the uncertainty of Brexit presents we cannot allow this to overshadow the crisis that there is in homecare in Ireland today in the run up to Budget 2020.

There are currently over 7,300 people across the country on a waiting list for home support services. This figure is only the tip of the iceberg, as many families have been discouraged from applying for hours and therefore do not appear on the waiting list.

Others have been awarded significantly reduced hours compared to what they have been initially approved – and then “removed” from the waiting list. A recent case in the midlands saw a family being awarded 6.25 hours per week despite being approved for 28 hours per week. This raises serious safety concerns for both the family carer and the cared for person but the family were left with little choice but to take what was offered.

Majority of carers have no suitable respite

An increase of €110 million per annum in the homecare budget is urgently required just to keep pace with demand. Despite the enormity of family carers’ contribution to our economy, a staggering €10 billion each year, recent research shows that the situation for carers has gotten significantly worse over the past 10 years.

Carers’ health, both physical and mental, has deteriorated as have access to vital supports and services and in particular respite. A whopping 83% of carers surveyed said they do not have access to suitable respite, and 48% of carers surveyed were diagnosed with ill mental health. 

So what would make life easier for Ireland’s family carers? Currently only one in five of Ireland’s 355,000 family carers receive Carer’s Allowance, the weekly social protection payment for caring for a loved one at home who requires significant care.

Family Carers Ireland are calling on the Government to reform the means test for carers in the upcoming budget through a number of measures including increasing the income disregard to bring more full time carers into the net, extending allowable deductions to include real costs of caring and increasing the capital disregard from €20,000 to €50,000 to allow carers to put aside savings for the future.

He and his wife are penalised for saving for their girls

Family carer Damien Douglas, who cares for his twin girls with profound disabilities, spoke recently about how he and his wife have tried to put aside savings for the care of their girls in the future but they are penalised for doing this by reducing their carer’s allowance.  

Other measures called for include ending the postcode lottery that exists for supports and services across Ireland by funding basic but vital supports and services for all family carers in their community including emergency respite, training, one-to-one counselling and support. 

For family carers who are trying to juggle paid employment with care in the home, an increase in the hours that carers are allowed to work or study outside the home from 15 to 18.5 hours per week would allow carers to increase their income whilst remaining active in employment and thereby reducing social isolation. 

Vital support

The introduction of the GP visit card for full-time carers was welcomed as a first step in recognising the importance of carers’ health and well-being in budget 2018. However the criteria was restricted to carers in receipt of carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit and therefore ruled out a significant cohort of full time carers.

Family Carers Ireland have called for this to be extended to all carers in receipt of the Carer’s Support Grant in Budget 2020 allowing more carers to receive vital support.

Ireland’s health and social care system depends on family carers. Without the estimated €10 billion in unpaid care Ireland’s 355,000 carers provide each year, the health service would collapse.

Despite the enormity of their contribution, the scars of the economic crisis remain etched in carers’ lives. It’s time for the Government to step up and protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and that time is now with Budget 2020.

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