Thursday, 17 October 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
5. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of applications received for a carer's allowance up to 18 September 1991; the number of applications approved at that date and the number refused at that date; if, in view of the very restricted means testing applied to the carer's allowance and the reduction in uptake caused by such means testing, he will consider amending the regulations for the allowance to remove the means testing condition from the eligibility test for the allowance and to recoup part of the cost by designating the allowance as a taxable income; if he will further amend the scheme to prevent the exclusion of living alone benefits payable to persons before the carer came to live with them; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Dr. Woods: There have been 8,400 applications for the carer's allowance up to week ending 4 October 1991. The total number of persons in receipt of the allowance is 3,585. Of these, 1,613 people have been awarded a payment at the maximum rate and 1,972 at a reduced rate. The number of applications refused is 2,930. The remainder are awaiting decision or are still under investigation.
The scheme was extended as provided for in section 8 of this year's Social Welfare Act to include carers of recipients of disabled person's maintenance allowance and carers of people with pensions from countries with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement. A total of 1,938 applications have been received under the extension of which 278 have been awarded and 513 have not qualified. The remainder await decision or are still under investigation.
The allowance as it stands is taxable when taken in conjunction with other income. No statistics are available as to the numbers in receipt of the allowance  who would also be liable for tax but it is considered that the numbers affected would not be significant.
The scheme is primarily directed at persons who are providing pensioners or recipients of disabled person's maintenance allowance with full-time care and attention. However, the means testing arrangements of these carers remain under review to see what improvements can be made within existing resources. The question of the total abolition of the means test would have cost implications which would have to be examined in a budgetary context as would the question of the retention of the living alone allowance and ancillary benefits by persons after the carer comes to live with them.
Mr. Stagg: Will the Minister not now agree, as was put to him in May 1991, that this scheme is a farce, that it has not worked and the 8,000 applicants who have been estimated to be eligible have not materialised because of the restrictions of the scheme? Would he agree that what we are dealing with is a public relations con job on one of the most vulnerable sections of the community?
Dr. Woods: The money which was estimated for the scheme will be spent, almost £8 million. So far as the money is concerned, it is straightforward. The estimate of almost £8 million which was approved and agreed to in the House for this purpose will be spent for this purpose. With regard to the extra number of people who would obviously qualify if the income limits were raised, this has become much clearer from the evidence available in the applications which have been sent in. That matter can be considered in the context of the next budget.
Mr. Stagg: Taking the cost of institutionalised care into account, would the  Minister not agree that this is a much more desirable system than forcing people into institutions which are highly expensive and not of the same quality as home care?
Dr. Woods: I would, of course, agree with the Deputy that it is a very worthwhile scheme and I look forward to it being improved in time. Some 3,585 people now benefit from the scheme and we have good information on the people who might benefit if the means were increased. A study is currently being undertaken on means to see how best they can be improved. The means test was taken originally as the means test for old age pensioners, an equivalent of that, and was deemed by the experts and all involved as the most suitable one for the purpose. In effect, modifications of that would certainly help to bring more people into the scheme.
Mr. Connaughton: Would the Minister agree that he led many people who are finding it difficult to make ends meet, particularly the most vulnerable sections of the community, astray? It has now become apparent that some people could not qualify for the scheme because they were not eligible. Many thousands of people who should be in receipt of this assistance will not apply for it because they know there is no point in doing so. Was this not a mean trick?
Dr. Woods: No, not at all. In fact, we made it very clear at the outset that it was a means tested scheme and its purpose. I can go back to the advertisments used at the time and the statements made in relation to the scheme. I accept that many more people could benefit from the scheme if the means levels were higher.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I am quite sure the Minister will change the means test as he could not defend a £2 income allowance. In view of the fact that the allowance is taxable, would the Minister agree that a woman — invariably it is women who look after the sick — who looks after her mother or  mother-in-law who is confined to bed with a stroke deserves to be seriously considered for a carer's allowance regardless of income? Is this something the Minister might consider doing in the future? Some people get this allowance even though the people they care for are not necessarily confined to bed.
Dr. Woods: There are three different mechanisms, any one of which can be used. The first is the social welfare one which was very specifically targeted and will use up the money which was targeted for it this year. The second is a tax allowance to an individual who is caring for an elderly person. The third is the tax allowance for bringing someone into care. Therefore, one would have to look at the whole picture to see what was the most appropriate arrangement for people and how these different schemes might be used to improve that whole area. That is a matter to be considered in the context of the budget.
Mr. Byrne: I am sure the Minister will agree that the statistics he has given will come as a shock to the Carers' Association of Ireland who estimate that 65,000 people are being cared for in our community, 25,000 of whom are in need of a high level of daily help.
Mr. Byrne: There are now 1,972 people on the reduced rate. Can the Minister tell us the number of levels in the reduced rate? I am aware from the last answer he gave in May that 20 people were receiving £3 per week. It is an insult to people who may have sacrificed their lives to care for their handicapped parents, brothers or sisters to give them a carer's allowance of £3 per week. The Minister stands indicted.
Mr. McCormack: We all recognise that this would be a very worthwhile scheme if it was properly operated. I want to refer to a case of a person needing full-time care 24 hours a day: the claim number is 236696621N. The carer got an allocation of £2 last week. When that person is in bed at night she has to hire someone to mind the adult person she is caring for, for example change her nappies etc. The person who comes in to relieve a carer who has to look after his or her relative for 365 days a year should also be entitled to receive a carer's allowance. Care at night time is as vital as care during the day time. That carer is one of the 3,585 people not receiving a  full carer's allowance. This is an absolute insult to these people. I want to raise another case with the Minister——
Mr. McCormack: I ask the Minister to advise his social welfare officers not to harass people who are under a lot of pressure already. I know of a person minding their two aunts and when the social welfare officer visited the house he took £3 per week off one of their old age pensions instead of giving the person a carer's allowance.
Dr. Woods: ——about a civil servant, especially by a Deputy who would be experienced in what happens in these circumstances. Persons who ask for a revision or reconsideration of their income are likely to do so only after a period of three, four or five years. If a social welfare officer discovers that there is a discrepancy then he is obliged under the legislation to submitt a report to that effect. That is one of the realities of the system and the legislation laid down by the House.
Dr. Woods: If they have an other income then they come into the tax net. There are two areas of tax, one was mentioned by the Deputy where there is an  allowance of about £5,500 — I am not sure if he is aware of it——
Mrs. T. Ahearn: The Minister stated that very few of our carers receive a reduced allowance. Would he not agree that the truth is that the majority of our carers receive no allowance because of a restricted means testing system? Surely the Minister would agree that the best place for a person to be cared for is in their own environment, in their home, by their family. In the long run, would it not be less expensive to make the carer's allowance more assessable because that would reduce the number of people taking up beds in our hospitals and in the long term would be more cost effective.
Dr. Woods: I agree that it is better to provide care at home and in one's environment for a number of reasons. I would be very much committed to that. However, this is the Department of Social Welfare and this is a social welfare scheme. This is a scheme for people on social welfare or on the equivalent of social welfare. If more resources are provided, we can go further. The question the Deputy raised needs to be considered much more broadly. I had hoped that the experience of this scheme in  practice would indicate the direction in which other schemes and arrangements might develop. Perhaps that is what will happen.
Mr. Stagg: The Minister indicated that the £8 million which had been allocated would be used up. Since then I have calculated that if everybody was on the full rate of £50 per week the allocation would not have been nearly used up. Can the Minister please explain where the balance of the money will go?
Dr. Woods: I do not know how the Deputy did his calculation but 3,000 by £43 for 52 weeks would amount to £6.7 million, add to that the cost of the budget which is another £1.1 million and that gives a total of £7.8 million.
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