Regressive budget fails to deliver on Programme for Government promise of 'support and recognition' for family carers.
Following the budget announcement by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Family Carers Ireland (FCI) is deeply concerned that many family carers will be worse off as a result of the measures. A recent ‘State of Caring’ survey* conducted by FCI found that 70% of family carers find it hard to make ends meet and 57% have experienced or are likely to experience debt as a result of caring.
While we welcome the €150 increase in the Carer’s Support Grant (currently €1,700 and paid to approx. 115,000 people), the measure won’t take effect until June 2021, this at a time when many family carers are already struggling financially. The majority of Ireland’s 355,000 family carers do not receive this payment, and for those who do, the increase may be offset by additional home heating and motoring costs brought about by the hike in carbon tax. Although the Fuel Allowance is being increased by €3.50 per week, Carer’s Allowance is not a qualifying payment meaning few family carers will qualify for this payment.
The organisation welcomes confirmation by Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath of five million additional home care hours and €100m for new disability measures but is seeking clarity on the comments in his Budget speech that this will ‘deliver the resumption of day services’ and “deliver respite services”. Given past experience in this regard, it is disappointing that the budget announcements were framed in terms of increased spending rather than increased deliverables.
To date only 35-40% of day services have been restored following the initial Covid-19 lockdown phase. Plans are in place to increase this to 60% - which still means that families will experience a reduction of 40% in their supports for the foreseeable future and there is very little support for families to access these services. Think what would have happened if the schools had reopened on the basis that the school transport system remained suspended and it was up to parents to deliver their children to school? This is what many families have been told with regards to accessing their day services. The recent suspension of the Primary Medical Certificate for disabled drivers and passengers following a court decision along with the withdrawal of the Transport Support Scheme in 2013 make the challenges of transport all the more pertinent.
Some positives from today’s announcement include 1,250 community beds, 600 rehab beds, confirmation of the Christmas Bonus, a €5 increase in the living alone allowance, a qualified child payment increase of €5 for over 12s and €2 for under 12s and an increase in the Dependent Relative Tax Credit from €70 to €245.
Family Carers Ireland remains deeply worried that full-time family carers are being locked out of the Carer's Allowance scheme by the failure to gradually increase the income disregard which has not changed for 13 years.
“Budget 2021 was an opportunity for Government to demonstrate commitment to family carers and honour the commitments made in the Programme for Government through innovative and cost effective means. Whilst there are a number of welcome measures in today’s announcement, it has not gone far enough to adequately support family carers. They have played a significant role in suppressing the coronavirus, whilst saving the economy €10bn annually. Their sacrifice has had a detrimental effect on their financial, physical and emotional wellbeing. Their essential contribution to the national healthcare system needs to be acknowledged and supported during these difficult times,” stated Catherine Cox, Head of Communications and Carer Engagement with Family Carers Ireland.
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*The State of Caring 2020 - https://familycarers.ie/media/2022/family-carers-ireland-state-of-caring-2020.pdf