OLDER people across the country will be frustrated at this year’s Budget, which has given very little back to older people experiencing financial, health and housing difficulties, and left them vulnerable to the impact of Brexit.
While the Budget addressed issues such as climate change, we at ALONE believe that it did not adequately respond to challenges including Ireland’s ageing population and the housing crisis, as well as those day-to-day challenges experienced by older people across the country.
We believe that while other sectors have been protected against Brexit, by not increasing vital supports such as the State Pension, the most vulnerable in our society have been left unprotected. If costs increase to necessities like food and transport, older people will be left vulnerable.
Every year we fail to fund a plan for an ageing society and we see nothing in the Budget to prepare for this. Since 2011 we have waited for funding for the National Positive Ageing Strategy, and again we have been kept waiting.
Many older people will miss the increase to the pension which has become regular over the last several Budget announcements. For those experiencing financial difficulties, many of whom we work with at ALONE, the decision not to increase the State pension will impact severely.
Many people assume that older people have their financial needs met by their state pension. But financial hardship is often a hidden issue among older people, and it is the third most frequent reason older people contact ALONE for support. In 2017, more than 63,000 people over 65 in Ireland were experiencing enforced deprivation.
At ALONE, we work with many older people experiencing extreme financial hardship, including many who are homeless. This was why we launched our campaign, ‘Let’s Talk Money’, with our ambassador Vincent Browne ahead of the Budget, encouraging older people to contact ALONE and to speak up and ask for support if they are experiencing difficulties.
In order to deliver financial security to older people, in this Budget we called for the pension to be increased to match 35% of average earnings, which would have required an increase of at least €7 to €9 to the state pension this year and in the coming years. Unfortunately, older people will not be receiving the increase they need to ensure they are protected against increasing costs.
While we welcomed the long-awaited increase to the Living Alone Allowance, which will be happily received by thousands of older people, this year many older people will be worse off as the pension has not even increased to match inflation.
For many of the people we work with, the State pension does not enable them to cope with costs such as increasing rents in private rental accommodation, transport, achieving and maintaining housing up to basic standards, or keeping ‘rainy day’ funds. In these cases, older people must seek financial assistance from organisations like ALONE.
Among the most frequent cases seen by ALONE staff include the impact of rising accommodation costs, as more older people living in private rented accommodation find it increasingly difficult to pay rent as costs increase. Older people we have worked with in recent months include those living in B&Bs, sleeping in their cars, and in hostels. We are also seeing more people receiving notices to quit their private rented accommodation, who are then unable to find new, affordable accommodation.
One issue that we have seen again and again in recent months has been the increasing waiting list for the Home Supports Service for older people and people with disabilities.
The Home Supports Service enables older people to stay living at home for longer by providing support with tasks including getting dressed, showering, and getting in and out of bed. The waiting list for this service now stands at more than 7,300 people.
Although we welcomed the announcement of an additional 1 million hours of home supports, this will not be sufficient to support the people on the waiting list and those who are not currently receiving enough home support to meet their needs. Many older people we have worked with who are currently receiving home supports have said that they are not receiving the number of hours they applied for or that they require, leaving them in limbo.
ALONE is a member of the Home Care Coalition, a group of 22 NGOs and campaigners who are campaigning together for better support for the home supports service. Together, we called on the Government to provide €110 million in funding towards the service in this year’s Budget. However, the service has received less than half of the funding we feel is required in Monday’s Budget announcement. The Home Supports Service, which provides such a vital support to vulnerable people, requires a far greater increase in hours than that which has been identified.
We also watched with concern the announcement about the carbon tax, which will be increased by €6 per tonne this year and in the coming years. The increase is likely to impact older people who have a low income or live in older and poorly insulated homes, and those in rural areas. While ALONE welcomes the modest increase of €2 to the fuel allowance, we had hoped to see the fuel allowance period restored to 32 weeks to ensure that older people are supported when they need it. The increase to the fuel allowance will not sufficiently mitigate against the impact of the carbon tax for older people.
Although we recognise the need to tackle carbon usage, we are concerned that the carbon tax will impact vulnerable older people who already struggle to pay their heating costs.
Some older people ALONE work with already cut essentials to ensure their budgets balance — for example, by waiting until their home gets too cold to manage before putting on the heating, or staying in bed to save on fuel costs.
This has been a very difficult budget for older people. While no cuts to entitlements or benefits were made, by not increasing provision for the pension, or by not further increasing supports such as the Fuel Allowance, many vulnerable older people will feel the impact in their pockets.
ALONE will continue campaigning for and with older people in the hope that future Budgets will recognise the support needs of older people. Our staff work with older people every day who are experiencing financial, housing, health and other difficulties, and we create individualised support plans for each person.
For any older person who may be experiencing difficulties today, we are encouraging you to reach out to ALONE and to talk about it. Support is available and hardship is not something that anyone has to experience alone.
To find out more about ALONE’s services nationwide, call 0818 222 024 or visit www.alone.ie