Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 26 June, 2003

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

  29. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the proposals she has to change the eligibility criteria for the carer's allowance, particularly for applicants in receipt of a social welfare payment prior to making application for the carer's allowance; if consideration will be given to the need for the introduction of an income disregard for those in receipt of a social welfare payment who subsequently qualify for the carer's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18081/03]

  34. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will examine the extent to which the carer's allowance can be improved to cater for the greater number of carers now providing care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18090/03]

  40. Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will increase the respite care grant to meet the needs of carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17910/03]

  43. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of carers in receipt of the carer's allowance; the number of persons who are deemed to be carers by the voluntary organisations; the plans she has to extend payments to the wider group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18085/03]

  48. Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on a recent warning by a company (details supplied) that the cost of providing nursing home care and home help for the elderly will jump by nearly 60% over the next ten years; if her Department is engaged in a degree of long-term planning to deal with this; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17901/03]

  122. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to extend the carer's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18206/03]

  128. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has considered improving the lot of those who have spent some time caring for a relative and who may not be in a position to go back into the workforce for one reason or other; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18212/03]

[1180]  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 34, 40, 43, 48, 122 and 128 together.

  The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain elderly or incapacitated persons with full-time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit. There are currently 20,600 people in receipt of the allowance at a cost of €160 million last year. As with all other social assistance schemes, a means test applies under which the income of the applicant and his or her partner is assessable. This ensures that limited resources are directed to those in greatest need.

  Provision has been made in successive budgets for substantial increases in the means disregards. In April 2003 the weekly income disregards increased to €210 for a single carer and to €420 for a couple. The effect of this increase is that a couple with two children, earning a joint income of up to €24,150 can qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance. The same couple, if they had an income of €39,750, could still qualify for partial carer's allowance, the free schemes and the respite care grant. It is estimated that an additional 1,700 carers now qualify for the allowance and 2,800 existing carers receive an increased payment as a result of this measure.

  It is estimated that abolition of the means test could cost in the region of €150 million per annum. In view of the many supports required by carers, particularly community care and respite care, it is considered that abolition of the means test would not necessarily constitute the best use of the resources available for the support of carers.

  There are plans to introduce a specific income disregard for applicants for carer's allowance who are in receipt of another social welfare payment when they become carers. With regard to recipients who are no longer full-time carers, they may be entitled to another social welfare payment. For example, those who are 55 or over and are no longer eligible to the carer's allowance may be entitled to the pre-retirement allowance.

  In budget 2003 I increased the annual respite care grant by €100 to €735 and to €470 for carers who are caring for more than one person. This increase, which results in a trebling of the grant since its introduction in 1999, acknowledges the valuable work done by carers and demonstrates the Government's commitment to them. All other matters relating to the provision and availability of respite care are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

  In regard to the number of family carers, a pilot census survey undertaken by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, found 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 to 49 hours' unpaid personal help per week, or between three and seven hours per day and 79,000 people provide one to 19 hours' unpaid personal help per week, or between nine [1181]minutes and 2.5 hours per day. There are currently over 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. Further work has been undertaken in the 2002 census by the CSO to identify the number of carers providing full-time care and attention. The analysis of this portion of the census, when available, should provide more comprehensive data to both myself and the voluntary organisations on the number of full-time and part-time carers.

  Yesterday, I launched a comprehensive study on the future financing of long-term care, carried out by Mercer Human Resource Consultants on behalf of my Department. In order to make progress in the area of policy on long-term care, I now propose to prepare a consultation document to accompany this study which will aim to focus all interested parties on the specific issues we need to address. These will be significant issues, including those in relation to benefit designs, cost and financing which are discussed at length in the report.

  A consultation process on the financing of long-term care will then take place. This process will be undertaken by my Department in close consultation with the Department of Health and Children over about a three month period. It is envisaged that the feedback from the consultation process would be the starting point for the commitment in the partnership document, Sustaining Progress, to establish a working group to examine the strategic policy, cost and service delivery issues associated with the care of older people. I hope this working group could be established early in 2004.

  Further improvements in the carer's allowance will be kept under review in a budgetary context. 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.

  30. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the qualifying criteria for unemployment benefit preclude a recipient continuing a course of study, commenced while in prior full-time employment, when he is still genuinely and actively seeking full time work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18075/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Social Welfare legislation provides that a person must satisfy the conditions of being available for and genuinely seeking work in order to be entitled to an unemployment payment.

  Where a person has been in full-time employment, and on losing that employment, continues [1182]to follow a course of study on a part-time basis, undertaken while in employment, he or she would not be precluded from claiming an unemployment payment provided that he or she is available for full-time employment, is genuinely seeking work and satisfies all other statutory conditions for the receipt of that payment. A person who is committed to a full-time day course of study, could not, however, be considered to satisfy the statutory requirement of being available for full-time employment.

  Each case is decided on its own merits within the framework of the relevant legislation and the onus is on the unemployed person to show that he or she satisfies the availability for employment and the genuinely seeking work conditions on an ongoing basis.

  Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to individual cases are made by statutorily appointed deciding officers and appeals officers. Where a person is dissatisfied with a decision made by a deciding officer to refuse him or her an unemployment payment, the decision may be appealed to the social welfare appeals office.

  There is also provision under the Department's unemployment schemes to facilitate an unemployed person who wishes to attend a part-time education course which will help him or her to enhance his or her employment prospects. Attendance on such a course is facilitated on the understanding that the requirements of availability for and genuinely seeking reasonable work opportunities continue to apply.