Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
104. Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated number of carers who are currently taking care of family members or relatives in their homes; the number of carers currently in receipt of a carer's allowance; the number of carers in the carer's allowance scheme since it commenced; the annual cost of this scheme, including the cost to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24741/02]
107. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether it is just and equitable that those whose sole income is a social welfare payment are in practical terms excluded from the carer's allowance scheme; and if she will take fair steps to address this unfair anomaly. [24751/02]
108. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which she has evaluated the needs of carers with particular reference to their increasingly pivotal role in society in terms of providing high quality service to those in need and at the same time achieving extremely good value for money; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24750/02]
350. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the total number of persons currently in receipt of carer's allowance; the total number of carers in the country as per information from voluntary organisations; her plans to meet payments in all cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25129/02]
The most recent estimate of the number of full-time carers is available from the results of the Census Pilot Survey carried out by the Central Statistics Office. This survey was carried out in September 1999 and is based on a sample of 8,000 households in which persons aged 15 years or over were asked if they provided unpaid personal help for someone with a long-term illness, health problem or disability, including problems due to old age. The detailed results are as follows: 35,000 people provide more than 50 hours unpaid personal help per week, or seven hours per day; 17,000 people provide 20-49 hours unpaid personal help per week, or between three and seven hours per day; and 79,000 people provide 1-19 hours unpaid personal help per week, or between nine minutes and 2.5 hours per day. These results are consistent with the conclusions of the review of the carer's allowance and it also explains the estimate of 120,000 carers used by the carer organisations.
There are currently more than 20,400 carers in receipt of carer's allowance which means that almost 40% of the 52,000 carers, as estimated by the CSO to be caring for more than three hours per day, are in receipt of carer's allowance. This is an increase of more than 19,000 in the number of carers in receipt of the allowance since the end of 1990, the first year of the scheme's operation. Expenditure has also increased from €0.13 million at the end of 1990 to €130.3 million at the end of 2001. I will make a table available to the Deputy giving the specific statistical information that he sought.
With regard to paying carer's allowance concurrently with another social welfare payment, the primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one social welfare payment is payable to an individual. This ensures that resources are not used to make two income support payments to any one individual. The carer's allowance is an income support payment and not a payment for caring. A person qualifying for two social welfare payments will always receive the higher payment to which they are entitled.
In relation to evaluating the needs of carers, the review of the carer's allowance was completed by an interdepartmental committee,  chaired by my Department and published in October 1998. The submissions and proposals of all organisations representing carers were considered as part of the review process and are comprehensively addressed in the report. Arising from proposals in the review, a range of measures has been introduced over recent budgets to improve and develop the position of carers.
As part of the process of developing the Health Strategy, which was published at the end of last year, my colleague, Deputy Micheál Martin, the Minister for Health and Children, commissioned a survey of the general public to obtain their views of health services and the health system. The strategy proposes to reform existing arrangements, including the carer's allowance, in order to introduce an integrated care subvention scheme which maximises support for home care. The Department of Health and Children has begun to work with my Department to develop proposals in this area. In addition, the strategy proposes that a co-ordinated action plan to meet the needs of ageing and older people be developed by the Department of Health and Children in conjunction with my Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment and Local Government.
In addition to consultation on the opinions and needs of carers which has taken place at this level, I have met various organisations representing carers on a number of occasions and I am aware of their views, concerns and priorities in relation to carers.
Although the carer's allowance is not a payment for caring, carers of more than one incapacitated person are currently entitled to an additional 50% of their rate of payment. This is an acknowledgement of the difficulties, both financial and personal, faced by these carers.
Further improvements to the scheme such as introducing carer's allowance on a “per person cared for” basis could only be considered in a budgetary context in the light of available resources. However, the development of the range of supports for carers will continue to be a priority for this Government and, building on the foundations now in place, we will continue to develop the types of services which recognise the value of the caring ethos and which provide real support and practical assistance to people who devote their time to improving the quality of life for others.
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