Call for end to ‘social welfare trap’ affecting home carers

Almost 5,000 people are approved for home care but waiting for a home care worker to be found

Home care providers have called for an end to a “social welfare trap” that restricts staff from working extra hours thereby contributing to long waiting lists for clients.

Home and Community Care Ireland (HCCI) says reforming social welfare rules to allow home care workers work additional hours would add capacity to the sector, help to reduce waiting lists and ensure existing clients continue to receive care.

Although historic funding issues in the home care sector have been addressed, the provision of home care still suffers long delays, largely due to staff shortages. Last May, 348 people were waiting for a decision on funding home care while almost 5,000 had been approved for funding but were waiting for a carer.

Under social welfare rules, a carer can work three full days – 22½ hours – and receive jobseeker’s allowance for the other two days, Joseph Musgrave, chief executive of HCCI, pointed out. “However, if a carer works even one hour per day for five days they cannot receive jobseeker’s benefit because the payment is based on the ‘three-day rule’ rather than cumulative hours worked.”

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HCCI, in its pre-budget submission, is also proposing a pilot scheme that would provide carers receiving supports such as a medical card or carer’s allowance with a temporary “public interest exemption”. This would allow them work above the permitted hours so they could provide care for an existing client whose regular carer is unavailable.

Mr Musgrave expressed concern that reform of the home care sector was progressing “far too slowly”. He said urgent action was needed if the Government’s commitment to implementing a statutory home support scheme in 2023 is to be met.

“The Government says that it supports a ‘home first’ policy but its actions, or lack of, says the opposite,” he said. “Our providers are still experiencing significant challenges recruiting carers and clients are facing lengthy waiting lists for a home carer. We need the Government to prioritise home care so that our older and more vulnerable citizens can get the support they need to stay in their own homes and communities.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times