THE phrase ‘these are difficult times’ was trotted out numerous times at the Candidates meet the Carers meeting, which was hosted by Newbridge Carers Association in the Hotel Keadeen on Wednesday morning.
Some candidates even drew on their own experience of caring for loved ones, in a bid to bond with their electorate, which was made up of a number of local carers and their concerns for their future welfare. Another phrase that was uttered frequently at the meeting was how the candidates ‘appreciated and understood’ the unique service being provided by carers in society.
One woman responded in kind from the floor when she stood up and told Fianna Fail TD’s Sean Power, Sean O’Fearghail and Aine Brady, Labour’s TDs Emmett Stagg, and Jack Wall and Fine Gael’s TD Bernard Durkin, Sinn Fein candidate Martin Kelly, Fine Gael candidate Martin Hayden and Kildare North Independent candidate Eric Doyle Higgins that “you use the words we appreciate you - I don’t need to be appreciated, I need to be supported.”
Brid Mc Cormack from Athy whose eleven-year-old son has autism stood up and told the candidates a little bit about her struggle and pleaded with them not to make any more cuts to the Carer’s Allowance and respite care.
“I need back-up,” she said. “I need a Speech and Language Assistant. I need someone to care for me. The routine in our house has to be seriously rigid. My new profession is a carer. It is 24/7 and it is more than being mummy and daddy. As we get older we need a back-up system. We all know cuts are on the way, we are not stupid. Please think of us. We don’t want to be penalised.”
All of the candidates stood up and made their various promises to the 50 or so carers who attended the meeting. The Health Service Executive (HSE) took a bashing as did the means testing for the Carers Allowance, and the annual application for a medical card for the long term sick, depending, of course, on which candidate was speaking.
The frustration from the carers in the room was palpable. They spoke about the need to be recognised for their role in society, the need for more support and respite in the home, the lack of human contact when they have to ring the HSE, the need to support local charity Jack and Jill which offers a vital service to parents of children who require 24-hour care. The stories were real, poignant and each as vital as the other. One woman spoke about her 95 year-old-father who could not cope with his prescription bills since the 50 cent levy on prescriptions for medical card holders was introduced.
“I knew what he was thinking,” she said. “He was wondering if there were things he could stop taking. I went into the chemist and was told you would not believe the amount of eldery people who come down and say that.”
Another woman who cares full time for her two children said she gets five hours home support a week.
“At the moment I am avoiding any calls from the HSE,” she said. “If they can’t meet me then they can’t cut my hours.”
The candidates took turns to speak to the floor and made their promises to help the carers if they get elected.
“In our manifesto we recognise the need to pay long term carers and remove the means test in the long term, “ said Deputy Stagg. “We are committed to protecting the carers.”
Deputy Wall blamed the former Minister for Health, Mary Harney for not being accountable for the HSE to the Dail.
“She is a disgrace as a Minister,” he said.
Bernard Durkin said the next year is critical and crucial.
“We recognise the need for extra support for carers but we have a serious financial issue in this country,” he said. “The next year is critical and crucial. The budget for this year is already passed - we will do our best to make sure nothing is taken away. For the past number of years the HSE has become the Department of Health. The Minister is not responsible in the house - we propose to change that and abolish the existing HSE and change it to one which is more accountable to the house and the people.”
Cllr Martin Hayden said we have to get the country “back on its feet”.
“My mother cared for my step-father for a total of four years,” he said. “I’m well aware of the stress and strain on the whole family. It is a simple fact that if every carer stopped caring the state would not be able to cope. We are in a difficult place and we have to get the country back on its feet.”
Eric Doyle Higgins said the fault lies with the health care system.
“We have to change the way health care is delivered - don’t let these people tell you anything different,” he said. “We need to make room for the increased burden of health care. We’re spending too much and getting too little. I intend to be a thorn in their side to make sure these good people are listened to.”
Deputy Brady said “We will be committed to keeping the payment in these difficult economic times.”
While her colleague Deputy O’Fearghail focused on the means test.
“I have had two experiences one for four years and the other for three years when I was the principal carer,” he said. “I have no difficulty in supporting the pledges but I do have difficulty in doing away with the means test. Wealthy people who can provide for themselves should not get a free service.”
Deputy Power said the “country could never attempt to reward” the carers for their contribution to society.
While Martin Kelly pledged to do “his best”.
“I know how everybody feels,” he said. “My mother is a carer for my sister and it is a 24/7, 365 days a year role.
“If you can’t get the support for carers from the government it would cost the state a lot more. I pledge to do the best that I can.”
With a serious threat posed to the sustainability of family care in the home, the ‘Meet your Candidates’ event enabled Kildare’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.