DÁIL SPEECH ON THE MOTION ON CARERS

I am delighted to have a chance to speak briefly on the very comprehensive motion on carers that is before us. I thank the Labour Party for bringing it forward. When I was spokesman for the party some years ago I published the party’s carers’ strategy, which we called “Caring for our Carers”. It was an important initiative. The motion before us today highlights Ireland’s duty, under both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure that parents and caregivers for children and adults with disabilities are given assistance “including assistance with disability-related expenses”.

Earlier today, Family Carers Ireland launched its pre-budget submission for budget 2020. As the Minister of State knows, the representatives spoke of the anger and disappointment many carers feel at the moment. They said that morale is very low because of what they feel is a lack of support, especially with regard to home help and respite. Family Carers Ireland is asking for the carer’s allowance means test to be reformed and that the income disregard be increased to €450 for a single person and €900 for a couple. It highlights that there has been no change to the disregard since 2008, that is, for a decade. The group asks for allowable deductions to be extended and for income to be assessed on its net value. Family Carers Ireland is also asking for the capital disregard to be increased to €50,000, for carer’s allowance to be exempt from income tax, and for carer payments to be excluded from the financial assessment of the working family payment. It also believes the cap on work or study time for carers of 15 hours per week is too low and that it should be increased to at least 18.5 hours.

Many of these requests or asks are included in the very comprehensive motion Deputy Penrose has tabled. In addition to what I have outlined, the Labour Party motion also asks that a study be conducted on the cost of caring. One of the things for which we have advocated over the years is a cost of caring allowance. The other major reforms listed in the submission are also included in the motion before us. Of particular importance is providing community and voluntary organisations with increased funding in order that people in every location have access to adequate services. Other proposals include replacing the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant, increasing funding for the housing adaptation grant, and extending the GP visit card to carers in receipt of the carer’s support grant.

We all have been cared for and we all will be carers. We all have had experience of caring at one time or another but there is something like 355,000 full-time carers in Ireland, more than 13,000 of whom are under 25 years of age. This is a remarkable statistic. The average number of hours per week that a carer spends caring is conservatively estimated at 45 hours. Only approximately one fifth receive either carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit. It is estimated that at least 35,000 more are not granted a payment due to being outside of the income limits.

There is clearly a great deal of work that Government needs to do to properly recognise the contribution of carers. A study titled “Valuing Informal Care in Ireland: Beyond the Traditional Production Boundary” was carried out by Dr. Paul Hanly and Dr. Corina Sheerin. This study estimated the value of informal care in Ireland at €5.3 billion, which exceeds expenditure by the Government on home-based long-term care and long-term residential facilities.

It is a remarkable contribution by a cohort of fellow citizens. Many of us have had experience of this or will have in the future. In a very timely way the Labour Party motion brings the issue to our attention again, particularly in the run-up to making decisions on what may be a very difficult budget.