Friday, 16 July 2021
Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
I will push back a little bit on this. I am constructive and reasonable. Let us be clear: nothing I am putting in this amendment counteracts what the Minister of State is doing or undermines it. We should remember that legislation is legislation. Legislation does not just belong to the Government. It is not just what the Government would like to be discussed. Legislation is what others see as relevant to it and my amendments have been deemed as relevant. I have suffered many times at the other end of the scale when they were not considered relevant but they are, in fact, relevant. They may not relate to the areas in which people are particularly interested or which are their main focus but they are what I am interested in and they are relevant to this Bill. I will point out exactly how.
This is the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill. It is about the nursing homes support scheme. The Long Title refers to the provisions "... for the financial assessment of persons applying for financial support to be made available to them..." and those "... who have, or had, an interest in a farm or relevant business..." and provide for related matters and the conditions attached. Some of the areas I have highlighted tie directly back into that. This Bill provides that businesses and farms will stay in the family and will not have to be sold, and I have said that is a good thing. It will make it easier for a business to stay in the family. However, when a business stays in the family there is not a moment of dissolution of an asset, where an inheritance event takes place and certain shares might go. Instead, there is a continuum. The asset is not dissolved and there is continuity of income from an ongoing business or farm. Obviously it is better if we keep farms and businesses going and in the same family but it is important that we address the fact of how income is generated and what will happen in the future. That is relevant here.
It is also a strong principle of feminist economics that we support financial independence. I make no apologies for saying that. In fact, it is a principle that is meant to be supported in our social protection system. We should be trying at all points to ensure the financial independence of all family members. That is a principle at European level and that is why that EU directive exists specifically in relation to farms and those who work on farms. I did not dream this topic up. It was an imperative from Europe because Ireland and many other countries are not very good at recognising the contribution of spouses - women in many cases, but it may be any other spouse on a farm - and ensuring they are visible within our social protection systems. I identified a positive opportunity here to increase that visibility in how financial assessments are done and to recognise the people who do not own the business. They may have to pay PRSI but they do not own the business and are not employees so PRSI is not being paid on their behalf. That is a particular circumstance that arises with farms and family businesses.How will that PRSI be paid? It there a guarantee it will continue to be paid during those periods? Those are relevant questions to consider in the financial assessment and the capping of the income from the farming business to cover the cost of long-term residential care. Those are relevant factors. We discussed the cost of children's education being a relevant factor that might be excluded. PRSI in respect of a contributing spouse is also something that should be included in those areas of deductions set out in the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act, which this Bill amends. Those are relevant issues. Many women who are qualified adults or adult dependants, which was the term used in the past, do not have financial independence and may not feature in our PRSI records even though they have worked all their lives. I make no apology for taking any opportunity to strengthen their position but that is not to oppose the purposes of the Bill, which I support. I seek to address this important issue and suggest we examine this. When we change how things are done and create benefits we may also create vulnerabilities. It is appropriate to consider what steps we might take to monitor or ameliorate those vulnerabilities.