C: Oireachtas screenshot / Family Carers Ireland

“Change the law”: Abolish means test for Carer’s Allowance for disability, Dáil told

Family carers have told the Dáil that the Government must end the Carer’s Allowance means test. Family carers Anna Buday, Niamh Ryan and Damien Douglas appeared before the Houses of the Oireachtas Social Protection Committee this morning to discuss how the Carer’s Allowance means test has directly impacted them.

The Social Protection Committee heard evidence from a mother with three profoundly disabled children who is ineligible for the Carer’s Allowance. Families said they felt “punished” by the state for having children with disabilities.

They were joined by representatives from Irish charity, Family Carers Ireland.

Anna Buday, a mother of five and full-time carer for her 11-month old daughter, Esther, who has Down syndrome, was among those who addressed the Dáil at the committee hearing this morning. Earlier this week, Anna shared her story with Gript, explaining the plight her family are facing financially after having her Carer’s Allowance of just €12.50 a week removed because her husband’s income was above the threshold. Since Esther’s birth, the family have discovered huge gaps in the system which make life extremely difficult for parents of a child with special needs.

She told Gript she was shocked to learn that she would not be able to claim a Carer’s Allowance even though she cannot work outside the home because of Esther’s care needs – because the maximum income a family can earn to claim the support is € 750 a week or €39,000 a year – well below the average Irish wage of €49,000.

“The means test ignores the fact that a family might have other children, that my husband works extra hard because we have extra bills when a child has special needs – and then sets a limit on the amount we can earn which is almost 20% below the average wage,” she said.

“It makes no sense, and it feels like we are being punished for working hard, and for having a baby with special needs. The government pays lip service to people with disabilities but then makes it impossible for us to live, and is denying my family the right to Carer’s Allowance even though I am a full-time carer,” she added.

Today, for the first time, the Committee on Social Protection heard direct evidence from three family carers, including Ms Buday – some of whom addressed the Committee from their own homes– because, up to now, their role as a full-time carer for a family member did not facilitate them giving direct evidence. The Committee also heard from representatives from Family Carers Ireland, Catherine Cox, Clare Duffy, and John Dunne. 

The evidence came as the Committee reviews the current means assessment system. Representatives speaking today hope that the means test system will be reviewed to ensure that Carer’s Allowance supports those who make a ‘vital contribution to Irish society’ by acting as family carers. 

“I would like to ask you to end the means test for Carer’s Allowance and change the laws for parents like me, especially when a child is born with a lifelong disability,” Anna Buday told the hearing. 

Damien Douglas, who cares for his twin daughters, Una and Ailis, who have Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, also addressed the meeting.

“In recent times, people who lost their jobs or were unable to work because of Covid were able to claim the PUP. At one stage this was valued at 350 euro per week. This would be a fair sum to have the Carer’s Allowance pitched at,” Mr Douglas said.

The Social Protection Committee also received evidence from a mother with three profoundly disabled children who is ineligible for the Carer’s Allowance. Advocates for full-time family carers say this clearly indicates that the current eligibility test for this payment is little more than a ‘mean test’, denying people financial assistance to support them in providing vital services to Irish society.

Niamh Ryan, who cares for her son Liam, told the hearing that while family carers are often told they are valued, this is not reflected in Government policy. She urged the Government to “make meaningful changes” to the means test.

“My family and many like us need help and support now. We don’t need to be told – like we so often are – that family carers are valued by our Government. I certainly do not feel valued. There are substantial additional costs involved in caring for a person with complex medical needs and I ask you to seriously look at these and consider making meaningful changes to the means test so that families’ considerable additional outgoings are taken into account.

“This will truly help families who spend so much of their time worrying about the health and survival of their loved ones and could really do without these extra financial worries and pressures,” she said. 

At present, there are 116,000 full-time carers in Ireland but only 89,000 are able to access Carer’s Allowance because the current means test assesses all income coming into the household, not just that of the family carer. Of the 89,000 carers who do not qualify for Carer’s Allowance, almost half of them do not receive the full amount because of another household income. 

Family Carers Ireland has pointed out that Carer’s Allowance was not designed solely as an income support but to “recognise the importance of supporting as many older people, and people with a disability, as possible to remain in their own homes”. 

This benefit, they say, was even more pronounced as a result of Covid-19, and it must be ensured that the vital role they played during the pandemic is reflected in a proper support structure to protect Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.

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