Can we afford not to support our carers?
Ireland's long-suffering family carers urgently need a break, writes Catherine Cox
Carers don't want our praise or pity. They don't want to be patronised or indeed canonised. They are not saints. They are ordinary people who are struggling to care for their loved ones without the supports they so desperately need. Carers are angry at a system which exploits, and sometimes abuses, their family bonds and only pays lip service to the demands of caring safely for their loved one.
They need respite. They need training. Some need a downstairs bathroom. Others need home help hours when they need it and not when the system decides it can give it - if indeed ever. Thousands of family carers are living in crisis, urgently needing a break. Their own physical and mental health is suffering, and they cannot get respite, even emergency respite, when they can no longer provide care.
In Ireland today all home care supports are discretionary and therefore resource rather than needs-led. This equates to a system which is inequitable, inconsistent and flawed. A postcode lottery exists. Where you live determines what supports you will get. Or not. This has to change. Carers must have access to key supports in their community. Supports such as timely information, in-home respite, peer support groups and ongoing training in line with the demands of their caring roles. Only then will they be able to continue caring for their loved ones, thereby saving this State €10bn each year.
The Government's response to the 'Carers in Crisis' programme was swift but unfortunately wholly inadequate with the announcement on December 15 of additional funding to improve respite care services and to ensure that all carers on carer's allowance can access GP services without charge. While both of these measures are a step in the right direction, they go nowhere towards reflecting the scale of the crisis.
Taking the 19,000 additional respite nights promised by the Government's announcement and dividing this by the 100,000 family carers providing full-time care in Ireland - it equates to less than three additional respite care hours in a single year per carer.
The extension of the GP visit card to all carers in receipt of carer's allowance, while welcome, will only affect 14,000 full-time carers. Family Carers Ireland has called for this to be extended to all 100,000 full-time carers in receipt of the Carer's Support Grant who have already passed rigorous assessment criteria, demonstrating that they are providing full-time care for a person in need of high-level care. This still leaves over 200,000 family carers outside the net.
Family Carers Ireland is asking the Government to invest in home care now. For too long home care has been underfunded, inconsistent and inequitable, leaving families with little choice but to choose a 'care home' over 'home care'.
Family Carers Ireland has launched the 'Carers in Crisis' campaign. We will continue to highlight the critical situation that carers in crisis are facing. Along with family carers, we are currently meeting our political representatives in their constituencies and Government offices, highlighting carers' stories and asking for real support.
Family carers are propping up our struggling health services. The question should not be "can we afford to support them?" but rather "can we afford not to?"
Catherine Cox is Head of Communications and Carer Engagement at Family Carers Ireland