Today (July 18th) our Cabinet welcomed a proposal based on a recommendation from the Low Pay Commission to increase the national minimum wage by 30c per hour from January 2018. It is believed that around 120,000 workers will benefit from this increase. This is very welcome news. But what of those in our society like me who work yet are not employed, who are deemed unavailable for employment yet have to work to receive any benefits, who work long hours with no training and immense stress yet have no rights with regard to our work? I am talking about carers.
Yes, carers. Those ‘selfless heroes’, those people who give up their careers (or at the very least put them on hold) to care for a loved one, those people who save the State an untold sum every year, those people who administer medication daily, who sometimes have to literally save a life. Those people receive in Carer’s Allowance at the most €209 per week (if they are aged under 66 and caring for one person). Yes you read that correctly, €209 PER WEEK. For a 39 hour week (the average full-time working week) that is €5.35 per hour. The minimum wage before the proposed increase is €9.25 per hour.
However, no carers work just 39 hours per week. On the Census form this year I stated that I provide care to my daughter for 168 hours per week. (That’s 24/7) You might quibble about this – what about when she is asleep? Yes, but I’m still keeping an eye on the video monitor in case of a seizure. What about when she’s in school or in respite? Yes I do indeed get a break then, but I’m still on call. At any time while she’s away I can get a call telling me she’s had a seizure, or is unwell in some way. Even if no such call comes (and thankfully they are fairly rare), I spend a sizeable portion of that time sourcing equipment for her, reading up on her condition (the carer’s version of Continuing Professional Development?), dealing with what seems like a never-ending stream of paperwork…….. you get the picture.
So if a carer gets the full amount of Carer’s Allowance (€209) for a 168 hour week, that’s €1.24 per hour. Yet not all carers get the full amount because its means-tested. In my case, I get €66.40 per week. Based on my self-defined hours of 168, that means I get 39c per hour. I personally know a number of carers whose means are such that they do not receive any Carer’s Allowance. That means they either have independent means deemed sufficient to support themselves, the person they care and any others who might live with them, OR the State has decided that their partner or spouse has sufficient income to support them. This renders the carer financially dependent on their spouse. I resent that the State forces me into a financially subordinate position.
I don’t know how many people are in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, so therefore I don’t know exactly how much it would cost the State to increase Carer’s Allowance by 30c per hour, the same amount as the minimum wage is to be increased by. I do know that being continually forgotten by the State (apart from during Carer’s Week when they can’t tell us enough times how great we are) adds to the very high stress levels that carers experience. None of us asked for this job. None of us want this job. But we do it, every day, week in week out and we will continue to do so. We do it because we have no choice. We do it out of love. But that does not give the State the right to ignore us and pay us a pittance.