It's a low blow... families like us need the carer's allowance
WEXFORD mother-of-four Jessie Brady, who has two children with special needs, thinks the 4 per cent reduction in the carer's allowance is a ' low blow' by the Government.
Jessie of Tenacre, Ballycogley, is one of 4,825 registered carers in Co. Wexford and receives one full payment and a half-rate allowance to help her look after her daughters Stacey (14) and Eimear (9), who both have Oculocutaneous Albinism and are visually impaired. She also has two sons, Gareth (20) and Darragh (17).
Getting the carer's allowance for the first time about five years ago was a big relief to Jessie, who had been struggling to work part-time in order to boost the household budget.
'It was huge. It stopped us from struggling. I was working part-time and trying to juggle eye-clinic appointments and hospital visits. When you're working, you can't keep taking time off for medical appointments.'
'You couldn't work full-time and look after children with special needs. That's the bottom line,' said Jessie, who now works two hours a day in the canteen of Bridgetown Vocational College, where Stacey is a second-year student.
' The carer's allowance made a huge difference to our lives and I think it's very unfair now to start taking it back. It keeps your head above water.'
Her husband George is a lorry driver but work is becoming scarcer now due to the economic downturn so the future is uncertain for them, as it is for many families. They have a mortgage on their home and the usual financial commitments of a family household.
'We're doing the best we can. We're not getting any other social welfare,' said Jessie, who is currently doing a training course with the Wexford Carers' Association to help her meet the changing needs of her children as they get older.
Stacey and Eimear were not officially diagnosed as having Oculocutaneous Albinism until Eimear, now a pupil in Kilmore National School, was about two years old.
Jessie and George knew Stacey had eyesight problems – she was attending the eye-clinic in Ardkeen Hospital – but it wasn't until Eimear also started showing difficulties that doctors began investigating further.
Jessie was working part-time and coping with the pressure of caring for two daughters who needed constant check-ups and special care.
'I didn't realise you were entitled to anything at all. Getting the carer's allowance was a big thing to us. It helped so much,' she said.
Stacey and Eimear, who also has general learning difficulties, both have special needs assistants in school.
'Eimear needs a lot of help to enable her to complete tasks and do her homework', said Jessie, who will lose €12 a week on her allowance as a result of the Budget reduction and €40 per month on her children's allowance.
'I don't know how the income tax changes are going to affect my husband yet. Things have gone very quiet for him. The price of petrol is going up by 4c a litre. But the cost of living is the same. Our mortgage is not going to go down,' she said.
'When you look at the cut in the allowance, it's a bag of coal a week.'
Marian McMahon, the manager of Wexford Carers' Association, said the cut-back is a 'slap in the face' for family carers who look after loved ones at home, saving the State an estimated €2.8bn a year nationally.
Carers receive €212 a week, which, in most cases, barely enables them to make ends meet. The latest cut of 4 per cent, or €8.48 per week, comes on top of an earlier reduction in the mini-budget which has produced a total cut of €20 per week over the past year.
Marian said all the assurances the Association received that the Carers' Allowance would not be touched, had come to nought. ' The Government reneged on its promise to protect the most vulnerable in society,' she said.
Among those receiving the carer's allowance are people looking fulltime after elderly parents or spouses, disabled siblings and children with special needs. 'You would have people who are very high-dependant and need care 24/7,' said Marian.