State faces new economic timebomb in rising cost of elderly care, expert warns

The annual cost of care for elderly and the disabled is to double to €4.5bn within three decades, presenting the State with another economic timebomb.

While the pressure on pensions from an ageing population is well documented, the cost of care is also going to soar. Economist Jim Power believes the Government is “failing to prepare” for the full cost of providing this care.

He warns Ireland’s population is aging so rapidly over the next five years that the country will witness a shortage of nursing homes.

“Caring for older people is the biggest economic issue this country faces,” he said.

“The implications on State spending on pensions and caring is absolutely inevitable.

“But the current tax base isn’t sufficient to fund that and politicians are not addressing it,” he added. “We need to start increasing tax and now. We pay around €21bn in income tax right now, so that needs to rise by 10pc per annum, to pay for care into the future.”

He said that the “corporate world has to stand up” and pay more taxes to provide services such as caring for an ageing population.

The economist estimates that, if the over-75s section of our population continues to increase, by 2050 the State will be paying double the €2.2bn a year cost. The payments are being funnelled into homecare packages, costing around €408m annually, the Fair Deal, costing around €970m and care in the home, around €890m.

“I estimate that between now and 2050, the number of over-75s will increase from 262,000 to 582,000 and it could be higher, that’s a conservative estimation,” Mr Power said.

“At the moment, just under 30,000 people are looked after by the Fair Deal in nursing homes, and a further 53,000 are receiving home care packages. Currently, the total cost is around €2.2bn on care between the Fair Deal, homecare and what carers are paid.

“And if my population projections are correct, we’re going to see that figure double by 2050.”

He said a shortage of nursing home places would be coupled by more applications for home care packages. That will inevitably equate to more pressure on State coffers.

Catherine Cox, from Family Carers Ireland, said: “While I don’t disagree with Jim Power on the funding issue he puts forward, there are other models that could be considered too, including social insurance, private insurance and co-payment models.”

She added: “Carers can no longer be expected to fill the deficits of a poorly configured health and social care system – the care must be shared between the State and families.”

Seán Moynihan, from Alone, a charity for older people, said: “The Government needs to prepare now for our ageing population. In the next 12 years, the population of people over 60 will increase by more than 50pc.

“We don’t yet have the resources in place to cope with this huge increase in numbers.”

The Department of Finance said it had “undertaken extensive analysis in relation to population ageing”.

“There are currently approximately five persons of working age for each person aged 65 and over. By 2050, the equivalent figure will be just over two. A range of policy reforms, such as increases in the State pension age, have been implemented to mitigate the costs associated with the demographic change in our population.”

Employing older workers could “help mitigate the impact of population ageing on the public finances”, it added, but “additional measures” will also be necessary in the future.

What is the Carer’s Allowance?

Carer’s Allowance is a payment made by the Department of Social Affairs which is means tested for all applicants, based on their total household income.

The test takes into account the incomes of an applicant and their spouse and any property they own, aside from the home they reside in.

Any assets that can raise money or provide an income are also taken into account when determining whether or not someone qualifies for it.

Occupational pensions or pension benefits from another country are also measured.

A person aged under 66 and caring for one person can receive a maximum of €214 a week.

Someone who is 66 or over and looking after one person can receive a maximum of €252.

A person aged 66 and over and caring for two people can qualify for a maximum of €378 a week.

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