Budget 2010

Speech on Budget Debate 9th December 2010

Deputy Dan Neville

I appreciate the position and will make a relatively short contribution.

I will address the measures pertaining to the carer’s allowance. Describing the budget as a “slap in the face” for family carers, the Carers Association, in its press statement, noted the following:

The Carers Association is appalled that all the assurances they received from back bench TDs that the Carers Allowance would not be touched in the Budget have come to nought. Family Carers who look after their loved ones in the home save the State an estimated EUR2.8 billion per year.

In return carers receive €212.00 per week, which is not sufficient in many cases to make ends meet. All of us will have seen the pressure many carers in our constituencies are under for various reasons, including financial reasons. The statement continues: “This latest cut of 3.8%, EUR8.05 per week, will have a real impact on the welfare of a very substantial proportion of family carers, already finding it difficult to meet everyday bills like heat and electricity, essential to maintaining the well-being of their loved ones”.

We know how demanding the charges for heating and other essentials are and how they impact on the carer because of the loved one’s circumstances.

Much strong language is used in the House at times. I will say merely it is extremely regrettable that the Government has reneged on its promise—–

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

No promise was given as to what I was asked to do. I met with various organisations but no promise was given. I never gave any indication and, in fact—–

Deputy Dan Neville

The Minister gave a promise—–

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

I said publicly—–

Deputy Dan Neville

—–to protect the most vulnerable in our society but he has gone back on this promise by hitting family carers.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

The Deputy says I should have exempted carers. What about the people who are being cared for? What about widows?

Deputy Dan Neville

Of course, the Minister must protect them. I am talking about vulnerable people. I am a widower but because of my circumstances, I would not count myself vulnerable. That is a different story.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

This is the challenge. The problem is that if one does that and yet must raise the same amount of money, if one excludes the 260,000 people in question, one must then take from the other categories which puts an unfair imposition on the unemployed.

Deputy Dan Neville

I can repeat my Second Stage speech. Fine Gael clearly pointed out that such money could be available if there was an evaluation of the various schemes and the 20 groups involved. They could be rationalised, giving more efficiency. There are heavy savings to be made in administration that would yield several times the cost of the cuts the Minister is to apply to the vulnerable people—–

An Ceann Comhairle: I will allow the Minister back in to deal with points as the debate continues.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh

This is Committee Stage.

Deputy Dan Neville

I have no problem with it—–

An Ceann Comhairle

We need to put structure on the debate.

Deputy Dan Neville

I am happy to debate with the Minister but—–

An Ceann Comhairle

The Deputy is drifting somewhat from the provisions in section 3.

Deputy Dan Neville

I do not believe I am.

An Ceann Comhairle

There have been other offenders in that regard.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

This is Second Stage all over again.

Deputy Dan Neville

The proposal to cut the carer’s allowance goes against the Minister’s and the Government’s policy to provide care in the home for as long as possible for older people and people with disabilities. This is another instance of the massive chasm between Government policy and Government practice. In one area there is a policy but this is a practice that goes against that policy. This gap has widened in each of the past three budgets.

In most situations, family carers are relatives, friends or neighbours who provide unpaid care for people and children with a disability, with mental illness or a chronic condition, or for frail old people. Given that carers must be constantly available due to the heavy demands and responsibilities of caring, many are unable to take up employment and therefore are reliant on Government supports. They made a decision to ensure their loved ones are taken care of in their home environment. Let us remember that vulnerable people want to feel, as far as possible, that they can have care in their homes. All our families and extended families have experience of and have responded to that need, that natural human instinct, the desire to be in our own place.

In addition, there are significant financial costs associated with caring. I mentioned raised heating costs, the dietary requirements, transport and medical expenses which must often be met by the family carer. Carers provide 3.7 million hours of care each week and save the State more than €2.5 billion each year. The average full-time carer saves the State more than €44,000 per year. We must put in context the contribution carers make. The saving made by family carers is even more apparent when one considers the cost of privately sourced care which comes at approximately €22 per hour. The essential cost of nursing home care is in the region of €800 to €1,000 per week and the cost of acute hospital care is in the region of €5,000 per week. I raise that point to put in context the contribution carers make to the State, to society and above all to the most vulnerable people who are under attack by the Government in this budget.

I shall conclude because Deputy Flanagan wishes to contribute. Family carers are already propping up Ireland’s fragile health system but the recent announcements not alone by the Government but by the HSE highlight the expanding role they will have to play in the future. There will be fewer patients in our hospitals, shorter hospital stays and an increasing focus on community care. Research has shown that 90% of community care takes place within the home, yet carers will now be expected to carry an even greater responsibility for community care provisions with a lesser contribution from the Government and the social welfare system.

I could deal similarly with the other categories that are counted as vulnerable but I confine my contribution to carers. Although all groups are equal, I wish to make a case for carers because of the contribution they make and the difficulties and pressures they have. I have seen burn-out and high levels of anxiety which sometimes move towards depression because of pressures the carer may have. The Minister should revisit this area.

We know how demanding the charges for heating and other essentials are and how they impact on the carer because of the loved one’s circumstances.

Much strong language is used in the House at times. I will say merely it is extremely regrettable that the Government has reneged on its promise—–