Contribution by Minister of State for Services for Older People, Mr Ivor Callely, TD, to Budget Debate response by the Department of Health and Children
A Cheann Comhairle
First of all, let me put on record my support for Minister Charlie McCreevy´s seventh budget. I have, with difficulty, heard opposition speaker after speaker try to criticize aspects of Budget 2004.
My message is one of optimism and confidence.
Never in our history of this great country have things been going so well. Some may think that it is only natural with a Fianna Fail led Government, that it automatically follows to have such economic progress and social gain. I understand, arising from our proven track record, that Fianna Fail is identified in the public mind with economic development and success. However, it does not come automatically.
This Budget, like its predecessor, sets out a strategic framework for further economic progress. Over the last 6 years this Fianna Fail led Government has followed a vision and taken decisive decisions in order to made our society an even better place.
There is hardly a local area from Malin to Mizen Head in which there is not some new project on development under way. Every day we hear of some new success story, some new project, some new achievement.
Lets not forget the real progress that has been made on recent years
- Diverse industry and markets
- Reputable sound economic policies
- Substantial job opportunities
- A tremendous international reputation
We have found a new confidence, a new belief in who we are and in our capacity to succeed.
All the progress that we have made is not down to one budget of another. It requires tough and hard decisions, it requires strategy, vision and determination and may take up to a decade before the seeds that are sown will reap rewards. Our vision must then be crystallised into specific goals at the right time and road maps put in place to achieve the specific goals. I believe this good Government has done all the necessary homework to build on our progress and experience to date and to take us as far as we can go as quick as possible.
This Budget continues the vital investment in our infrastructure, over €28 Billion euro invested in our infrastructure to date and a further €33 Billion euro investment in a multi annual envelope over the next five years.
The decentralisation programme offers a tremendous opportunity for balanced regional development. I particularly welcome the€20m euro capital allocation up front and he implementation committee to progress this programme.
It is often said that with the economic growth this country has enjoyed; that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I do not support this myth. Some of the rich may get richer but we only have to look around and see that there are broad, general improvements in our standards, in disposable income and in our life styles. I do accept that we do need to be vigilant to ensure equity and fairness. We have made great strides in development of social inclusion, with ever changing goal posts these social inclusion policies must and will continue.
Health, social welfare and education must be continuously investigated with a view to their perfection. I warmly welcome the range of good Social Welfare measures as announced in the budget, especially the fact that the highest percentage increases in social welfare payments has been granted to Older People. The increases in older persons “personal rates”, the increase in respite care grants, the widowed parent grant increase, the improvements in the means test for carers allowance, the improvement in the after death payments, the generous tax benefits especially in tax exemption limits
- €5201 for single person under 65 years
- €15,500 for single person over 65 years
- €10,420 for married couples under 65 years
- €31,000 for married couples over 65 years
The continued increase in more and more older people qualifying for these benefits and all the secondary benefits of the free schemes – free electricity and gas units, free TV licence, free telephone rental, fuel allowance and living alone allowance extension of free travel and companion passes, medical cards, chiropody services and so on.
In health, we will be spending over €10 billion euro in the provision of services in 2004. We have our blueprint in our Health Strategy “Quality and Fairness” and considerable progress, maybe not as much as I would have wished, has been made.
I warmly welcome the additional €25m euro for services for people with disabilities. In the area of Disabilities, we still have some way to go to bring our society, our supports and our structures to one of equal opportunity for all.
There are many good things happening in our health services and in every community. As a young member of Government I am determined to press ahead with the work we in Fianna Fail have begun in building a better Ireland.
My vision is to achieve a first class health service by working to eliminate the gaps and variances that I appreciate are in our services. While the wide range and complexity of services makes this task difficult, I look forward with enthusiasm to the challenge of improving our health services to a fair, equitable world class service.
My number one priority is: marked improvement of all services for Older People. The corner stone of my Department´s policy is to keep older people in their home, according to their wishes, by creating the proper supports and structures. I am strongly of the view that, with the expenditure in health, we can and we will continue to develop and enhance our services. I am pleased to advise, following successful pilot projects with regard to home subvention/community supports that I am working with the health boards to roll out personal care packages, including home subvention, in every region. This will involve the client in deciding and implementing their home care plans and are fully in keeping with the principles and objectives of the national Health Strategy in that they offer:
- Person Centered Care
- Coordinated planning between agencies and service providers
- Integrated care plans for older people
- Support to informal careers.
I am particularly pleased to indicate that the initial feedback from the service providers to my proposal to explore the enormous benefits arising from personal care packages is proving to be tremendously successful.
I would remind the House that Government policy in relation to health services for older people was outlined in the report “The Years Ahead” and reaffirmed in the review of that report which was published in 1997. This policy was given a further impetus in the National Health Strategy.
We value our older people and, therefore, will place particular emphasis on an approach which aims at maintaining them in dignity and independence at home.
I want to demonstrate this Government’s commitment to the development of a comprehensive range of services for older people by outlining the resources made available to my Department in recent years. Additional revenue funding for the development of Services for Older People has increased significantly from€12.7m in 1997 to an additional €87.807m in 2002. In excess of €270 million additional funding has been provided for services for older people from 1997 to date. This has resulted in over 1000 additional staff being recruited. Between 1998 and 2001, over 550 additional beds have been provided in new community nursing units and over 1,250 day places per week have been provided in new day care centres.
I wish to inform the House that a root and branch review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme is underway in my Department. This review will look at all aspects of the Scheme, including the allowances given for assets, assessment procedures for means and dependency and all other elements of the scheme.
My Department is also in the process of consulting all stakeholders, and may I take this opportunity to invite Members of this House, with an interest in the Scheme to hear their views on how it might be improved to benefit the most important person involved, that is, the patient. It is planned to bring forward proposals in relation to whatever additional measures may be necessary arising from the Expenditure Review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme and the Ombudsman’s Report, together with experience gained from the operation of the Scheme since its inception in 1993. The review of the scheme will also need to be looked at in the wider context of how we, as a society, will, in the future, fund long-term care.
There is an acknowledgement that there is insufficient provision of public long-term care beds to cater for our growing elderly population with a resultant over reliance on the private nursing home sector. This was acknowledged when my Department was preparing the National Health Strategy and there is a commitment in the Strategy to provide 1,370 additional assessment and rehabilitation beds, plus 600 additional day hospital beds with facilities encompassing specialist areas such as falls, osteoporosis treatment, fracture prevention, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke prevention, heart failure and continence promotion clinics. In addition, the Strategy proposed the provision of an extra 800 extended care/community nursing unit places per year over a 7-year period that will include the provision of long-term care beds for people with dementia.
Since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for Services for Older People, I have viewed that responsibility in the broadest possible sense, beyond matters relating specifically to health, in that the services provided and work done by many Agencies and Departments impact on the lives of older people in a host of different ways. I am keenly aware of particular issues that have a detrimental impact on the lives of older people.
In that context, I set up, and now chair, the Inter-Departmental Group on the needs of older people. This Group provides the opportunity for a positive influence to be brought on all of the various services provided to older people.
The Group is taking a cross-cutting approach to its work, with members speaking with authority on behalf of their Departments, and having influence on their Department’s policy in relation to services for older people.
The inter-Departmental Group also decided that Department of Health and Children might take on the development of an equality strategy incorporating all groups, including older people, and it was agreed that a number of strategy documents exist that might be drawn together towards satisfying the equality agenda.
Significant progress has been made and I am committed to the continuous development of our services through innovative and creative new initiatives. My commitment to older people cannot be denied. I believe through the efforts of previous generations, our economy and society is at the healthy level we enjoy today. Our success has been built on the shoulders of giants and it is only right that older people are afforded the required supports to live in the dignity which their immense contribution to the development of our country deserves.
If there is one issue I welcome and will take some credit for is the first step and the principles for Public Services Pensions.
I welcome that the Government aggress with the age for receiving a pension should generally be 65 year of age and greatly appreciate the removal of the present compulsory retirement age of 65 years in order to accommodate older people to remain in the work force should they so wish.
This is a particular interest of mine and one I have pushed hard for since my appointment. All the research and evidence shows that older people over 65 years who wish to remain in the work force remain more independent, active and healthy.
I do hope that the measures announced in this Budget on the retirement age will create national stimulation and debate on the subject of retirement age.
I read in a submission of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul “In a year when Mick Jagger hits 60, Paul McCartney becomes a dad again at 61 and Brigitte Bardot turns a stunning 70, it´s clear that growing old ´ain´t what is used to be´. With longer life expectancy, better health and widening horizons, life in the slow lane seems to have really picked up the pace for a new generation” There´s a dawning realisation that society actually needs the enriching presence and participation of those who have seen what life has to offer – and survived to enjoy the ´afters´.
I am determined, as Minister for Older People, in Ireland, to ensure that older people continue an active, fulfilling and empowering role in our society.