Report proposes weekly welfare benefit for carers on leave from jobs

 

A weekly welfare benefit for people who take leave of absence from work to become carers has been recommended in an official report.

And tax relief for carers is being considered by the Department of Finance, the report of an interdepartmental committee on the carer's allowance reveals.

The cost of the weekly benefit, £42 million a year, would be met through an increase in the PRSI deduction. The benefit would not be means tested.

It would apply to people who need to stop working for a time to look after a relative. Workers would be entitled to take leave of absence and to return to their jobs later under the proposal.

The Government has sought a report from a consultancy on this issue, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Mr Ahern, said yesterday.

A direct payment of about £100 a month to people caring for highly-dependent relatives has also been proposed. About 6,000 people would qualify for the payment, which would also not be means tested.

The report was presented yesterday to Mr Ahern. The working group was made up of civil servants from Mr Ahern's Department, the Department of Finance and the Department of Health and Children.

It acknowledges that "there are many carers who are frustrated and stressed and who feel they receive little support from the State".

The means-tested carer's allowance, it says, benefits only people on low incomes, many of whom were already receiving social welfare payments.

In 1990, only 1,240 carers were getting the allowance, at a cost of £100,000.

This year, more than 11,000 carers are receiving it, at a cost of over £45 million, an average payment of about £75 a week.

About 40,000 adults are in need of full-time care, the report says.

However, the report does not recommend the abolition of the means test for the carer's allowance.

It recommends that carers and people being cared for be given a right to have their needs assessed. This assessment "could be used by all State organisations which provide reliefs or grants to those in need of care".

Mr Ahern said a working group chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Dr Tom Moffatt, has been set up to advance the introduction of a needs assessment.

A scheme of tax relief for carers, it says, "could provide recognition to carers who are not eligible for carer's allowance".

The £100 a month, non means-tested payment which it also recommends should be introduced for all carers who are providing the highest levels of care, i.e., where the care recipient is highly dependent, it says. The estimated full-year cost of this proposal would be £7.25 million and an estimated 6,000 carers would benefit.

The report expresses one doubt about the proposal: because the payment would not be means tested, it would not be specifically targeted at people on low incomes "and it may be the case that carers themselves, would, for example, prefer to see additional resources put into respite care which, in theory, would be of benefit to all carers".

It also foresees objections to a carer's benefit financed through PRSI. Because this would result in an increase in PRSI contributions, and in leave of absence from work for carers, the proposal could result in poorer competitiveness, it says.