Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Department of Social and Family Affairs
National Carers Strategy
During 2008, an interdepartmental group, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, with secretariat support provided by my Department, undertook work, including a public consultation process, to develop a National Carers' Strategy. However, because of the prevailing economic situation, it was not possible to set targets or time limits which could be achieved. In that context, rather than publishing a document which did not include any significant plans for the future, the Government decided not to publish a strategy. This position remains unchanged.
The Government is acutely aware and appreciative of the contribution made by carers. It was for that reason, that when resources were available, we invested heavily in improving social welfare rates and services for carers. Over the past decade, carer payment rates have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit, half-rate carer's allowance and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. People caring for more than one person receive a higher rate of payment, equating to an additional 50% of the maximum personal rate. Recipients with children also receive a qualified child increase in respect of each child.
Following this year's Budget, the carer's allowance rate for carers over 66 years of age has not changed and remains at €239. The rate of carer's allowance for someone under 66 is €212. Since the introduction of the carer's allowance in 1990 payments to carers have been increased and expanded. Carer's allowance was increased in 2007, 2008 and 2009 by 12.1%, 6.5% and 3.3%, respectively. As a result, even with the reduction announced in the last Budget for carers under 66, the weekly rate of payment for the carer's allowance is still almost 20% higher this year than in 2006 and more than 147% higher than in 1997.
The means test for carer's allowance has been significantly eased over the years, and is now one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse's earnings. Since April 2008, the income disregard has been €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. This means that a couple with two children can earn in the region of €37,200 and qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance as well as the associated free travel and household benefits. A couple with an income in the region of €60,400 can still qualify for a minimum payment, as well as the associated free travel, household benefits package. These levels surpass the 'Towards 2016' commitment to ensure those on average industrial earnings continue to qualify for a full carer's allowance.
From June 2005, the annual respite care grant was extended to all carers who are providing full time care to a person who needs such care, regardless of their income. The rate of the respite care grant has also been increased to €1,700 per year in respect of each care recipient since June 2008. The Government will continue to support carers within the resources available.