A Galway TD had told the Dáil how the unfairness of a scheme offering support towards long-term nursing home care is causing distress to farm families and small business owners.
Independent Deputy Noel Grealish, speaking during a debate on the Nursing Home Support Scheme, said it was not living up to its commonly known title, the Fair Deal scheme, when it came to these two groupings — and was resulting in families having to sell out to meet the huge bill.
The group of independent TDs to which he is aligned, had tabled a motion calling on the Government to address the uncertainty created for farm families and family businesses by the potentially uncapped liability in the financial assessment of farm and business assets.
Under the scheme, people make a contribution towards the cost of their long-term nursing home care based on their income and assets, and the State pays the balance.
But while a person’s home is only included in the financial assessment for the first three years, a family farm or business continues to be included in the assessment, with an annual contribution of 7.5% of the value of assets to be made for the duration of the nursing home stay.
“I cannot imagine that those who first drew up the details of this scheme could have foreseen the level of distress it would cause to these two groups,” said Deputy Grealish.
“We are not talking here about someone with, for instance, a property portfolio for whom the sale of a property here or there will not adversely affect the stability of what remains.
“But one cannot have a big annual bill mounting up against the value of a farm or small family business without it eventually directly threatening the future of those assets, which are productive assets.”
He said that a productive agricultural sector with thriving family farms played a significant part in the economy of this country. Currently, there were almost 140,000 farms in Ireland.
“Agrifood is our most important indigenous sector, employing 8.6% of the working population. Anything that threatens to fragment these farms is bad, not only for families and local communities but for the country as a whole.”
The Galway West TD said that a senior HSE official had recently claimed that some farm families were keeping elderly relatives in hospital to avoid them being placed in a nursing home and so avoid the Fair Deal Scheme fees.
“It illustrates how much of a problem the scheme is causing for families and the worry that it has brought about by any perceived threat to the family farm.
“While it is an asset, it will not remain so if there is 7.5% of its value being surrendered every year while someone remains in nursing home care and the amounting bill may leave a family with no option but to sell it off.”
Deputy Grealish added that equally, small businesses all too often operated on marginal profits and anything that impacted on that fine balance of survival was not good for the country and its economy.
“At present, in Ireland, small firms employing fewer than ten account for more than a quarter of all employees in the labour market. That is how important they are.”
He said they were not asking not for special treatment, but fair treatment, pointing out the the Programme for a Partnership Government published more than a year ago undertook to introduce changes as soon as practicable to remove a discrimination against small businesses and family farms under the fair deal nursing home scheme.
“But goodwill is not good enough. Farm families and those involved in small family businesses need to see good intentions turned into action. The current Government has already accepted that there is discrimination and it is time for action now to end it.”