Fair Deal shake-up to focus on the elderly, not solving the housing crisis - Harris
The State's nursing home support scheme will not be used as a means to address the housing crisis, Health Minister Simon Harris has warned.
Mr Harris yesterday insisted the "overriding objective" of the planned shake-up of 'Fair Deal' is to provide more supports for the elderly and their families - not to tackle issues such as homelessness.
The intervention comes on the back of several pronouncements from Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy for vacant properties belonging to nursing home residents to be considered part of the Government's response to the housing crisis.
While insisting the Government does not intend to target people's homes, Mr Murphy does believe there are a substantial number of vacant properties because their owners have moved into care and have no motivation to rent out their home.
But speaking in Dublin yesterday, Mr Harris insisted that the Fair Deal scheme fell under the remit of his department and that the priority was to provide greater assistance to the elderly, including farmers and small business owners.
"What I'm saying very clearly is any decisions made to alter the Fair Deal scheme will only be done with a view to provide that flexibility to older people," the Wicklow TD told reporters.
"And if that has a knock-on benefit to providing additional support in meeting the housing challenge, well that's an added bonus.
"But it's not the overriding objective. The overriding objective to any change in Fair Deal is to help and support older people," he added.
Under the Fair Deal scheme, people who take up residence in a nursing home have to give 80pc of their disposable income to the State to cover the cost of their care.
Mr Murphy last week published a strategy which proposes incentivising older people to become landlords.
It's not known how many vacant homes owned by elderly people in care are dotted around the country, but sources said the minister believed the figure was substantial enough to justify incentives. There are an estimated 25,000 people in nursing home care.
Mr Harris yesterday said Minister for Older People Jim Daly was "looking also at the possibility of providing older people with a flexibility, should they wish, to rent their house, should they wish to sell their house."
But he stressed on two occasions the issue of housing was not the priority when it came to the planned shake-up.
"Let me be very clear that every and any change to the Fair Deal scheme will be done with one overriding principle - to help support older people and their families, to empower them and give them more flexibility and options."