I AM responding to your editorial and associated articles in relation to carers in your July 29 edition.
The Government is acutely aware and appreciative of the contribution made by carers in our society. It is for this reason that we have invested heavily in improving social welfare rates and services for all those who are reliant on the State for income support. Over the past decade, weekly payment rates to carers have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer’s allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer’s benefit, half-rate carer’s allowance and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. In 2000, €€99.6m was spent by Government on all carer’s allowances and benefits including the respite care grant. In 2010 the spend will be €€726m.
All of our welfare schemes have qualifying conditions, including in some cases PRSI contributions, in others a means test and in a number of schemes, the habitual residence condition (HRC). These conditions are to maintain the integrity of the system and ensure that income support is provided to those most in need. In your editorial you say "Such abuse [welfare tourism] should be stamped out, but we need to ensure that people with genuine entitlements are fairly treated." I very much agree with this and that is why the HRC is based on objective and transparent criteria.
Irish people returning permanently to Ireland should generally be able to show that they satisfy the HRC whether they return as carers, or are intending to resume work here, or to retire here. However, a person returning temporarily who does not satisfy the HRC will not be entitled to the assistance payments or child benefit, which are subject to that condition. The habitual residence condition also applies to supplementary welfare allowance, but not to emergency payments under that scheme.
Your editorial would seem to indicate that Irish people should be treated differently to others in relation to the HRC . Exempting only Irish nationals from satisfying the habitual residence condition would be contrary to EU law and to the equality principles that Ireland has adopted in equality legislation. This could therefore be open to a legal challenge and we would be obliged to extend the same entitlements at least to all EU citizens. This Government recognises the huge commitment given by carers and, for this reason, protected last year the half rate carer’s allowance for people who are already in receipt of other state payments. It is also worth noting that if an Irish person comes back to Ireland from another EU country that payments of contributory pensions and some other social welfare benefits are transferable with them from one country to another within the EU.
Éamon O Cuív, TD
Minister for Social Protection
Department of Social Protection
Áras Mhic Dhiarmada