Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Social Welfare Payments

3:20 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I raise this issue because it concerns another example of difficult circumstances in which many people, whether they are carers or not, find themselves. It relates to the inability of people who care for a loved one to pay for the additional electricity consumption that caring for someone requires. As the Minister of State will be aware, many people find it easier to keep on top of electricity bills by using a pay-as-you-go meter. Unfortunately, they spend more this way but many people feel they must use a meter because they cannot take the chance of receiving an astronomically high electricity bill they might have difficulty paying. Carers, in particular, have to be mindful of these costs because they are under-resourced. They have to stretch every penny, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree.

This week, I was contacted by one such family. They care for their son, who has needs that require the assistance of certain medical devices and equipment. He is an 11-year-old boy who has a number of conditions, including cerebral palsy, sleep apnoea and epilepsy. Because of these conditions, he needs the assistance of a number of medical machines while at home. One of these is a high-flow oxygen concentrator. While it is known to be heavy on electricity, it is vital equipment. It is not the only machine he needs but it is a significant one. It is turned on every night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and frequently during the day, which has a considerable impact on electricity use, meaning the increase in energy costs is really biting.

The family sent me a video in which they ran through the payment records on their meter. The increased costs are obvious. They are paying between €70 and €90 a week, yet the boy's mother has told me she gets between €64 and €70 every two weeks under the household benefits package, and that is before the impact that the increasing energy and fuel costs is having on securing other areas of treatment for the child, which I might get to later. When I spoke to the family this week, their question was whether the Government will increase the electricity allowance for carers.

Speaking about the budget is pointless, given we are into only the third month of 2022 and these are the issues facing families. I am sure the Minister of State will outline figures on the household benefits package and the €200 electricity subvention, which will be minus VAT, and so on, but the question remains. Other families are in similar circumstances. They may have loved ones at home who have exceptional needs that require specific supports. In many cases, maintaining these specific supports, such as the machine I referred to, involves costs that are hidden from the State. I say "hidden" because this family is not being supported to meet these additional costs. The costs are on them, hidden from view and forgotten about, and the families are left to get on with it.

I ask the Minister of State, on a compassionate basis, what the Government can do to address the needs of families such as the one I have mentioned. Given the rising costs that have been incurred by these families, is the Department considering taking the needs of carer families into account and providing them with further assistance to meet the increasing costs they are incurring by providing for their loved ones?


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