Last October we took the difficult decision to place my Dad in a nursing home. He has been ill for many years and yet another stroke made it all but impossible for us to care for him at home. Trying to look at it logically it was the only decision open to us. I like logic. Emotion is far less of a friend. No matter how many people agree with the decision, friends and professionals, the fact that he is now in a nursing home is an emotional scar. The home itself seems excellent, the standard of care is high and the staff are lovely. That helps. Yet I find myself visiting him and he still cries about missing home. In this recession everyone knows business is tough, I flit from place to place and meeting to meeting chasing work everywhere to keep my own family afloat. Between these meetings I try to visit him when I can. Just the other day he cried and said ‘Please don’t go…’ . That was tough. He was the man who collected me from every place I ever ended up, every time I had no lift, every time I got stranded or any time I felt alone and just needed to get home. Life can be very cruel.
Those who act in the role of carer do an amazing job. It is a 24/7 responsibility, its stressful and demanding. All across our country we have people doing it. Parents who look after disabled children, spouses or family members looking after an elderly relative or care workers who come in for a few hours to help. My Dad would have been in a nursing home many years ago were people not willing to give up so much to care for him and keep him at home for as long as we could. Thousands of people manage to live out their days in the comfort and peace of their own home thanks to a sacrifice by others. It is a good thing to see in a society. However, aren’t we used to good things costing us a lot of money? Well, that’s just it, these carers are not costing us money, not only are they managing to help improve the lot of those they care for but they save the state hundreds of millions of euro by ensuring that people are not placed in expensive full time care. It is a classic case of a win win scenario. The state saves money, the people are happy and everything works out………so why is it not that simple?
Why is it that successive ministers pay lip service to the idea of homecare and yet fail to deliver? Why is it that we say the aim is that more people will be able to stay in their own homes but then do the opposite? The real problem is how we view Carers. We pay them €204 per week. That’s fine but it takes no account of the hours worked, the fact that it is often at times when any other job would be getting overtime rates and so forth and it is nothing in comparison to what is being saved. All you need to know is apparent from the budget we pay it out of. It’s not the health budget it’s the Social welfare budget. Why? because it’s not a job, its seen as a welfare benefit. Carers are not employed workers doing a job on behalf of the state they are instead seen as people benefiting from state payments.
Now, in our own case it was my father’s ill health that led to him going into full time care but increasing budgetary strain is placing many families in a situation where they will be forced to reconsider home care. The Department will tell you that they will change the means test and increase the budget. This again ignores the long term saving to the state in the hope of making a quick budget buck. It is based on the premise that people will not flood the nursing homes, if they thought that would happen there would be no cut at all. No, it’s a calculated gamble that families will sacrifice even more to help their loved ones stay at home. We say that we understand the economics of it, we say that keeping people at home makes sense and we say that these people are saving the state a fortune. Then we cut the respite care grant, we cut the home help hours, and we cut the amount of people eligible for housing adaptation grants. This at a time when we are offering all kinds of other incentives in areas for people to get construction work done and houses made more efficient. However the construction and home improvement work involved in housing adaptation was not seen as such a ‘stimulus’. No, because it’s just another benefit. In a world where executives get ‘top up payments’ and bonuses that would make any fair person blush, we say that if a carer were to double their workload and care for two people they don’t get double the allowance they get 1.5 carers allowance. How’s that for salary efficiency?
I don’t blame the politicians to be honest. They just follow what seems to be the advice within their departments and take the path of least resistance. Nothing new there. Bigger fish to fry. I do however blame the people who are supposed to be experts working within these departments who can see the figures but just don’t like accepting them.
What kind of society are we, if the sick, elderly and disabled are seen as just a drain on resources? There can be no planning for the future if this is the road we set ourselves. It’s a future we all face and let me tell you now, it looks bleak. Who is going to say enough? Where do we draw the line? When are we going to start caring about those who care?