Means-tested payments from wealthier older people towards the cost of home help would make such services sustainable for an ageing population, the Government has been told.
A new study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found that demand for home help hours, currently provided free under the public system, is likely to increase as the population ages.
However, the system is impacted by backlogs and varying levels of availability in different areas, leading to a "postcode lottery" in parts of the country, Dr Claire Keane, author of the report said.
A flat rate contribution of €5 per home support hour would raise up to a fifth of the total cost of the scheme, but the ESRI warned the impact would fall more heavily on those with low incomes, creating affordability problems for some. The report found such a step would increase the elderly poverty rate by an estimated 1.4 per cent.
However, Dr Keane wrote, setting an income above which a sliding scale of contribution would be introduced on a means-tested basis would cause “minimal” impacts on poverty.
The report says a cap on overall contributions would mean those with a high level of need would not see their incomes consumed by the cost of care. Proceeding with a means-tested charge would allow those on lower incomes – for example those below minimum or living wage – to continue to receive full State support.
Minister for Older People Mary Butler said the report was the final element of a programme of research to support the development of the new home support scheme. "This research will form an important part of the evidence base for the development of a sustainable funding model for home support services in the context of our ageing population."