No Happy Christmas for Family Carers

Since the recession began family carers have feared what they would face in the budget. What was austerity for the community at large hit the carers harder. Each year The Carers Association lobbied hard. We presented pre budget submissions and they were well attended by elected members. We talked with them and they seemed to understand. Like anybody else many had family members who needed care and wanted it to be in their family home. They seemed to understand that.

Carers listened for hints. Our ears pricked up if a Government Minister mentioned family carers on the radio or on television. That always gives hope. They know who we are, we thought. They understand. It will be okay. They know how much family carers save the exchequer by staying at home and working twenty four seven instead of putting their loved one in a home.

Catherine Cox, spokesperson The Carers Association

Catherine Cox, spokesperson The Carers Association

And so it was that we prepared ourselves for the first slap in the face.

In 2012 we could not believe our ears when they cut the annual Respite Care Grant by almost 20 per cent – from €1700 to €1,350. Not that most carers could ever use it for respite. More often it was used to pay a bill that had been waiting or pay for essential therapies (such as speech and language or occupational therapy) for their loved one who was on a never ending waiting list.

The Fuel Allowance Scheme was also cut by six weeks

Home Help Services were cut by €8 million from September to December 2012. This equated to 600,000 hours of Home Help. An additional 500,000 hour cut was imposed earlier this year.

And so we came to 2014. There were the usual kites floated by politicians. We make our Pre Budget Submission with more hope that we had dared have for years. There was talk of restoring pay to civil servants. The big one was Ministers talking about budget 2015 offering social recovery for families. There was a lot of talk about the end of austerity. Better times were finally on their way. What we discovered was that family carers just do not matter. There was no social recovery for carers. And that hurt a lot.

The big aim was to take people off social welfare and get them back into the workforce. But that is not an option for family carers. Nor would they want it. Many carers are working twenty four seven. But they are seen as social welfare recipients. They are the only group who have to work full time for their money. And they cannot go out to work and neglect the person or people they are caring for in their homes.

We were bitterly disappointed that the Respite Care Grant cut was not reversed or at a very minimum partly restored. It would not have cost a lot but it would have meant a lot. They were able to reverse cuts in the children’s allowance but no crumb from the table for the carers.

Likewise we were disappointed that they did not reverse the cuts to the Household Benefit Package. It has been slashed each year for five years and should have been reversed. They made a huge impact on family carers. They need their landline telephone and the peace of mind given by a social alarm system. Many are older, isolated and fearful of crime. But that did not happen either.

This is the same Government that promised pre-elections that they would abolish the prescription charge that their predecessors had brought in. It stood at 50 cent at the time. Instead they have increased it five hundred per cent. Today it is €2.50 per script and that hits family carers more than most who often have multiple prescriptions for both themselves and those they care for.

We do welcome the announcement of 1,700 new education posts, 365 of which are Special Needs Assistants and resource teacher’s assistants which will be helpful. And we welcome the € 25 million to deal with delayed discharges but it MUST be put into community care and support.

So family carers face into Christmas. The forecast is bad. The weather may be harsh and many are worried about the cost of fuel as older people and those with disabilities need more heat and that is expensive.

Christmas is family time.  Traditionally, there are presents. Many carers cannot even get out of the house to do some shopping. Supports for family carers are usually closed including day centres, residential and respite care.

Christmas is a time to give carers a break. A time to be neighbourly.

Maybe the government will give them a break some year soon.


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