AS part of its pre-election campaign, The Carers Association, Tullamore this week hosted a ‘Meet your Candidates’ event for family carers and election candidates last Monday night at the Tullamore Court Hotel.
Nine of the 21 candidates in the Laois/Offaly constituency attended the public meeting at which Carers outlined the difficulties facing them and the issues of most concern to them.
With serious threats posed to the sustainability of family care in the home, the ‘Meet your Candidates’ event was an opportunity for Laois and Offaly’s family carers - the invisible workforce who often provide round-the-clock care - get their voices heard as well as sign The Carers Association’s petition asking the incoming Taoiseach for a better deal for family carers.
The nine candidates who participated in a sometimes emotional discusison were John Moloney TD (Fianna Fail), Cllr Barry Cowen (Fianna Fail), Charlie Flanagan TD (Fine Gael), Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Fine Gael), John Whelan (Labour), Brian Stanley (Sinn Fein), Christopher Fettes (Green Party), Cllr John Leahy (Independent) and Liam Dumpleton (Independent Labour).
“Family carers, working full time in the home with little or no support from the state, do not have the time or resources to come out for protests or canvass politicians. We hosted the ‘Meet your Candidates’ event to give family carers the opportunity to speak to election candidates on what they need the new Government to implement for more support and recognition for family carers” explained Enda Egan, CEO of The Carers Association.
The issues brought up by Carers for the attention of the candidates included the lack of services for dementia sufferers under the age of 65, the lack of emergency short term accommodation for people being cared for in the home, the bureaucracy involved in assertaining rights and allowances, reductions in facilities and services along with the isolation experienced by Carers especially those who live in rural areas.
Cllr John Leahy said that as a public representative a lot of his time was spent “on hold” trying to sort out difficulties for constituents with various government departments. He claimed that services to which people were entitled were being refused and there appeared to be a deliberate “stoppage” policy within some government departments which was very frustrating.
On the issue of the lack of emergency short term accommodation in Offaly, Cllr Brian Stanley pointed out that there were three units in County Laois for emergency accommodation, a move that came about because of pressure from local councillors. He added that it made sense from a financial point of view to ensure that carers are kept healthy.
Liam Dumpleton claimed that if all Government Ministers had their salaries reduced then the money saved could be used to re-open wards “one bed at a time” if necessary.
“There is money there it is just going to the wrong people.”
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said that Fine Gael had a “One Stop Shop” style policy called 24/7 365 which would see services co-ordinated for one body rather than the current fragmented system where people had to go to a variety of government agencies.
The Carers Association is demanding that all political parties make the following commitments for Family Carers:-
* Pledge to publish the National Carers Strategy. This was promised in Towards 2016 and the last Programme for Government, but has not happened.
* Pledge that every Carer will have the right to an adequate income and have opportunities to work and have a life outside of their caring role. Carers are the only Social Welfare recipients who work full time for their payment. This means that many work for less than the minimum wage while saving the State over two billion euro each year.
* Pledge to support Carers’ health and wellbeing and improve access to services. Carers need a non-means tested medical card, an annual health check and increased provision of respite services.
* Provide supports for Young Carers. There are 28,000 Carers aged under 18.
* Promote equality and social justice for Family Carers.
As part of the organisation’s Pre-Election campaign, which includes a Virtual Campaign for the first time where carers can upload their messages for Government to www.carersireland.com,
The Carers Association is urging voters to issue ‘yellow cards’ to all politicians, a specially created yellow canvass card stating what carers need from the next Government. Voters are also encouraged to ask all candidates about their policies for family carers.
“Family carers are very frustrated with their current situation and have been badly let down by the Government. Despite promises to protect the most vulnerable in our society, Carers have often been the victims of harsh cuts and much reduced support services. If a new Government allows this to continue, then care in the home will become unsustainable for many, which leaves to Government the burden of care and the major financial implications of its provision,” added Enda Egan, CEO of The Carers Association.