Seanad debates

Friday, 16 July 2021

Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

9:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 59, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

Report

33. The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining any trends or impacts identified in relation to the Scheme in terms of its intersection with the implementation of Directive 2010/41/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 July 2010.”.

This amendment is related to amendments Nos. 5 and 6 but they are marked as being taken separately so I will address them separately. This issue came to my attention when I worked with the National Women's Council of Ireland and Older & Bolder. It is an issue that affects older women in particular but can also affect many others. The issue relates to economic vulnerability and the financial independence of older women in Ireland. Many women are not visible in the social protection system.

EU Directive 2010/41/EU was transposed by Ireland at the last moment in 2014. It sets out the provisions whereby social protection PRSI stamps will be paid for a family member working on a farm or in a business. That has particular relevance for spouses. Spouses, other family members or those who used to be called relatives assisting can be invisible in their work. They are not an employee nor are they the owner of a business. They are not self-employed in the classic sense of owning a business or a farm. They can fall into a place where they lack financial independence and that can create imbalances of power. It can create situations for the financial abuse of power and vulnerabilities that I discussed earlier.

This is not a uniquely Irish phenomenon. These issues arise everywhere. Everybody knows of families and businesses that are doing incredible work. Only one family member may be the owner but other family members carry a considerable burden of work in a family business or farm. The aim of EU directive was to try to ensure that every member of a family who is working and contributing gets recognition and their own social protection safety net. Unfortunately, that directive, while it has been transposed, has not been taken up. We have not seen those safety nets implemented. Many of those relatives assisting, family members or spouses have not been able to develop their own safety net in terms of social protection. Many of those people will not qualify for a contributory pension or non-contributory pension or, if they do, they will receive a reduced rate pension. Many women in Ireland are on reduced-rate pensions and could be begging as little as €100 per week if they are on contributory pensions. Many do not qualify for the non-contributory pension because their household means test makes them ineligible. They are, therefore, left vulnerable in terms of their financial independence.

We will not have to talk for as long about amendments Nos. 5 and 6 because they are coming at the same issue in a slightly different way. The reason this amendment is important is because this Bill includes the business owner and farm owner. Issues around succession are addressed. The successor may well be the eldest son or daughter while the spouse, who may well be living in the home, is left in a potentially vulnerable situation. I want an examination of this new mechanism as it relates to a property that is also a business or farm passing to a successor. What happens to the siblings? What happens to the other people who also keep the farm going? Where are they catered for in this legislation?

There are two levels at which we need to look at how they are supported. The first relates to the period of time when the farm or business owner is in residential care. The second relates to the point afterwards. In a scenario where a farm or business is sold, which I realise is exactly the situation this Bill is trying to avoid, there is an inheritance moment when an asset is dissolved and persons are entitled to certain amounts. In a scenario where a successor is able to keep the business or farm going, which is obviously good for many reasons, there is not the same kind of inheritance moment. There is potential difficulty for a spouse or sibling who assists or contributes to that business and who may or may not have PRSI contributions.

I refer to social insurance measures in amendments Nos. 5 and 6. I am referring to the directive in amendment No. 4. There is potentially a positive opportunity here. We could, for example, create a scenario whereby deductions in terms of PRSI become eligible deductions. It could be that the deductions that are needed for a spouse in terms of their PRSI or the deductions that are needed for a family member who is contributing, those PRSI contributions of the supporting or contributing family member, may be eligible as one of the deductions when financial assessment is conducted. It may be an opportunity to allow people to build up some social credits while their spouse is in residential care if they have not done that previously. If they are in a situation where those social insurance payments are already being made, it is, of course, important that they would continue.

Those are the measures I suggest. All of these issues intersect with health and social protection but the positive measures in this Bill came out of the identification of a social need, a social situation that arises, and I want to make sure that all of the people in that situation are recognised. A family-named farm might go from one generation of, to pick a name at random, the Kenny family to another. We must ensure the other people in the mix do not get forgotten and that we do not only look to the owner and the successor. We must also look to those around them.

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