MINISTER of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly’s revelation that people availing of the Fair Deal could be charged less is welcome. The proposal already has the blessing of Minister for Health Simon Harris, but is subject to the agreement of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who will need to factor any such change into Budget 2018 next month.
Reducing the percentage of the income of older people in nursing homes taken by the State under the Fair Deal scheme from 80 to 70% would give someone on the old age pension roughly €26 a week more to cover extras and incidentals, thereby removing the indignity of near impoverishment some residents feel after working so hard all their lives. Of course, a percentage of the value of their assets – be it property and/or savings – is also taken over a three-year period in order to pay towards their care and this can cause financial hardship and stress for some families who may be forced to sell the family home after the parents have passed on if they cannot meet the Fair Deal bill out of their own joint resources.
Age Action has welcomed the proposed change, stating that the amount currently paid by the elderly is ‘unacceptable.’ Recently also, we heard reports of some nursing homes – albeit a small minority of them – imposing a lot of extra charges and one optional one cited was a €20 fee for residents to have mass said, which really is exploitative.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s recent call for vacant houses owned by nursing home residents to be used to address the housing crisis also has faint echoes of exploitation, even though it probably was not his express intention. As things stand, if the house of someone in a nursing home was let out, the rental income would be added to their pension and the government would be taking 80% of that too.
Seemingly, Jim Daly has pinpointed 4,200 homes which could be vacated by nursing home patients in order to help solve the housing crisis. However, letting out such houses should not ever be compulsory and, if the owners and their families agree to do so, they should not be penalised financially on the rental income for their care under the Fair Deal scheme, given that they are making a tangible contribution towards solving the housing crisis.
The scheme needs to be changed in order to remove the financial disincentive for nursing home residents to either rent out or sell their home. Also in need of review is the vexed issue of exempting farm assets from consideration of means when calculating nursing home bills for farmers, given the argument that farmland should be regarded more as a business asset than a personal asset.
Whatever concessions are made in Budget 2018, the greatest ongoing need at the moment is financial provision for more Fair Deal packages as our older population continues to grow and also more home care packages to help those who would prefer to be looked after in their own homes to exercise that option where feasible.