Thursday, 25 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Social Welfare Eligibility
9. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will report on changes to the carer’s allowance announced in budget 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57544/21]
53. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of the changes to the carer’s allowance and domiciliary care allowance announced in budget 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57475/21]
This question concerns changes in the carer's allowance, which I welcome. What happens in the case of someone who provides care for a period of seven or eight years and who is then disqualified from many other schemes? This person took time off work to be a full-time carer for both parents, who have now died. He looked after them for eight years and now finds he does not qualify for a whole range of social welfare schemes. Unfortunately, he is now not able to work and is not entitled to any benefit.
I propose to take Question Nos. 9, 16 and 53 together.
The carer income supports provided by my Department include carer's allowance, carer's benefit, domiciliary care allowance, and the carer's support grant. More than 135,000 carers are supported by regular income payments and spending on these in 2021 is expected to be in the region of €1.5 billion.
As part of budget 2022, I announced significant changes to the means test for carer's allowance that will allow carers to have a higher weekly household income and a higher level of savings and still qualify for a carer's allowance payment. From next June, the income disregarded in the means test for carer's allowance will increase from €332.50 to €350 for a single person, and from €665 to €750 for a couple. In addition, the amount of capital or savings disregarded in the means test will be increased from €20,000 to €50,000. These are the first changes to the carer's allowance means test in some 14 years and will ensure thousands more people will now qualify for the payment. In addition, many carers who are currently on a reduced payment rate due to means will move to a higher payment.
From January, the domiciliary care allowance, which currently continues to be paid for children who enter hospital for up to three months, will now be available up to six months. Importantly, carer's allowance will also be paid during this period where applicable. This measure will ensure parents are supported at what is a very difficult time when a child is in hospital for a prolonged period of time.
All of these measures will be included in the Social Welfare Bill 2021 which will be brought through the Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.
I thank the Minister. I very much welcome the changes because anyone who is providing care to his or her elderly parents is saving the State a huge amount of money in real terms.
This is about cases where caring stops after a parent has passed away and carers are coming back into the system. I ask the Minister to examine this so that people can come back into the system and not be penalised. They are penalised in respect of pensions, disability benefits and a range of other social welfare benefits. If one spouse is working, the other is disqualified from any allowance.
I am dealing with a couple where the wife's income is €320 per week and the husband is now not entitled to one cent in social welfare. He is no longer able to work because he has a genuine disability. He has had serious back operations, yet is not entitled to any allowances. That is why I am saying we should not penalise people because they have looked after their parents for eight or ten years.
One of my priorities since I became Minister for Social Protection is to do whatever I can to support our carers. I know very well the huge work they do and the contribution they make to our society. As I said, in last year's budget I increased the carers support grant to €1,850, the highest level ever. This year, there is an increase of €5 in the carers allowance, as well as all of the other measures I outlined.
The Deputy referred to a specific case. The person concerned has the right to apply for social welfare payments and possibly an allowance. Again, that is means tested. I take the point he has made. We have done a lot for carers, but that does not stop here. I will consider other things we can do. As I said, we have increased the carers support grant and the weekly payment. We have reformed the means test. We now need to make sure that we can provide our carers with a pension. The Deputy mentioned that. It is something we are going to examine and it is a recommendation in the report of the Pensions Commission.
There are have been huge advances in the carers' allowance, including the means test for the carers allowance, and I want to thank the Minister and congratulate her on that work. It is transformative to have changed the means test and the disregard in the way she has. I am sorry if I came in early. There are a series of linked questions.
I want to thank Deputies. Many have raised issues with me and I have been able to make changes in the budget this year. It is important that we support carers. We have been doing that and will continue to do so. Family carers and the Care Alliance have warmly welcomed the changes we announced in budget 2022. I accept that there is more work to be done. I will continue to work with Deputies and examine other issues that need to be addressed. I thank them for the suggestions that have been brought to me.