Sunday 25 September 2016

Fair Deal report is good news - for now

Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30

The minister responsible, Kathleen Lynch, has promptly pledged that charges are not to be increased
The minister responsible, Kathleen Lynch, has promptly pledged that charges are not to be increased

The report on the Fair Deal published yesterday will come as a relief to many older people in care, and their families. The minister responsible, Kathleen Lynch, has promptly pledged that charges are not to be increased.

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That is to be welcomed, as under the current system the 22,000 people receiving care under the scheme pay 80pc of their income and 7.5pc of their assets per year. For many of these people, their only income is the old age pension and 20pc of this does not provide lavish personal comforts.

So it is reassuring that costs are not to be hiked. The outcome has been welcomed by the advocacy group Age Action and others who represent the nursing home owners.

But let us also recall that this review of the system, which has been in operation since 2009, was set up amid several warning signs that cannot just have evaporated in the intervening months.

Speaking in February, Ms Lynch had some home truths to deliver about the arithmetic underpinning the scheme. Her officials said it cost taxpayers €950m per year and generated annual contributions worth €75m.

The minister pointed out that some people were making contributions of the order of €290 per week for care which cost about €1,200 in real terms. Both she and the HSE boss, Tony O'Brien, framed the situation against a future of Ireland's ageing population that appeared certain to place more and more demands on funding.

Already this spring, interim funding had to be provided to ease waiting times and lengthening queues which had become quite the focus for political controversy. Taking this on board, we have to ask how suddenly there is no question of charging more.

Could it be linked to an impending General Election now some eight months away at most? There is, of course, ample precedent for such occurrences in our recent political history. Delaying facing stark financial realities risks making things worse.

Against that, the report notes the need to offer more community care. Some advocates for older people argue that more effort should made to help people care for themselves as much as they possibly can.

Irish Independent

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