News Miriam Donohoe

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Miriam Donohue: Enough is enough – carers need cherishing not cuts

Published 07/08/2013 | 05:00

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Tom Curran and Marie Fleming
The late Colm Murray

The death last week of popular RTE sports broadcaster Colm Murray at the age of 61 after a battle with motor neurone disease saddened the nation. It was impossible not to have been touched watching the repeat of the TV documentary on Sunday night on his valiant fight to find a cure for the illness that takes the lives of more than 100 people in Ireland each year.

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Colm was diagnosed three years ago and in recent months was totally incapacitated and needed full-time care. He died peacefully at home in Dublin surrounded by his family. As well as the care of his medical team he was lovingly looked after by his devoted wife, Anne.

A case of another well-known broadcaster being cared for by his wife was highlighted at the weekend. The BBC's political presenter and commentator, Andrew Marr, spent two months in hospital after suffering a stroke in January, and his wife Jackie Ashley became his full-time carer.

She spoke passionately in an interview about life as a carer, and criticised the lack of support she received after her husband left hospital, saying it "created a false economy".

It is not always the woman who does the caring. In Co Wicklow, Tom Curran spends 24 hours of every day of every week caring for his partner Marie Fleming, who has multiple sclerosis. She lost her legal battle in May to allow her husband help her end her life at a time of her choosing when things get too unbearable to carry on.

He recently told the Irish Independent how he has no home-care team on weekends or bank holidays. Over one recent long weekend, when Marie had a bad chest infection, he got no sleep as he had to stay awake to help keep her lungs clear.

These are three high-profile cases which received a lot of media attention. But spare a thought for the thousands and thousands of carers in Ireland who are quietly devoting their lives to minding ill or incapacitated loved ones. They might not remain silent for too long, though, as they are bracing themselves for further cuts to their allowances in the forthcoming Budget.

Here are some facts: Ireland has more than 40,000 full-time carers, providing more than 2.5 million hours each week. In addition, there are 160,000 family or part-time carers, clocking up 3.7 million hours of care each week.

The Carers Association says committed carers save the State about €4bn a year and that if even one in 10 carers decided they were unable to continue, it would cost the country €165m annually.

In last year's Budget the respite grant for 77,000 carers was cut by almost 20pc, from €1,700 to €1,375. This left many angry and bitterly disappointed, coming on top of cuts to the mobility allowance grant and home-help services.

Although the grant is ostensibly for carers and families to take a break, it is often used to pay general bills. The Carers Association says it has heard of stories this year where carers have had to turn off their heating and cut back on basic necessities such as food. The reality is many carers work 24/7, 365 days a year, saving the Government a fortune.

It is unfair that so many are being placed under huge additional stress with constant worries about meeting bills and making payments.

We all know carers. They are in every village, parish and community in Ireland. Most of them go about their work without complaint. But they will be shouting very loudly if they are targeted by the Government again.

Carers want the respite cut reinstated, €1.50 prescription charges scrapped, and a payment to replace the mobility allowance. They also say they will be strongly resisting any move to cut the half-rate carer's allowance, which is given to those providing full-time care who are also on social welfare.

Carers are a hard-working, dedicated labour force, providing a hugely important service to the country. More cuts to allowances might mean many loved ones going into full-time care.

Let's cherish our carers, and give them the break they deserve.

Irish Independent

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