herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Pensioners should not have to choose between food and heat

NOBODY should have to live their life in fear, and certainly not older people who spent their lifetime working and paying taxes.

But older people are fearful as speculation rises that their pensions will be cut in the December Budget.

They are scared of what will happen if their pension is hit because, for many older people, the State pension is their main source of income.

With the winter quickly closing in and memories of last year's Big Freeze still vivid, they wonder how they will manage to keep their homes warm.

The introduction of the Carbon Tax on home heating oil since May, and no sign of the compensation payments promised last December to protect the poorest of households, means that a tough situation is set to get tougher.



STRUGGLE

Despite the sweeping generalisations of some ill-informed commentators, life for many pensioners in 21st century Ireland is difficult, and the struggle is getting harder daily.

More than one-in-10 pensioners are at risk of poverty, and many more hover just above the poverty line. The winter is a particularly difficult time. There are up to 2,000 additional deaths each winter in Ireland. Many are older people. They don't die from hypothermia, but from cardiovascular and respiratory illness -- cold-related conditions -- because they cannot afford to heat their homes to a comfortable level.

Those who struggle most are those who live alone, on low incomes, in older, poorly-insulated homes. One-in-five have a disability which restricts their movement around their home.

I remember overhearing two women discussing their "staying alive" strategy in the depths of last winter.

"Don't worry, we'll get by -- cut back on the food and spend the money saved on fuel," one advised the other. It was so desperate, and so short-sighted, with experts warning that food is as important as fuel for older people during the winter. Nobody should have to choose between the two.

Older people who attended an Age Action members meeting in Dublin last month to discuss the Budget were angry at how out-of-touch with reality commentators and politicians were.

They fumed at the references to older people being "the winners" in last year's Budgets.



RECOGNITION

The Consumer Price Index fell by 2.9pc between January, 2008, and July of this year.

Pensions rose by 3pc over the same period, so the experts concluded that pensioners were better off. But pensioners know the reality.

The CPI figures ignored that the cost of key services for older people had risen sharply -- bottled gas up 18pc, solid fuel up 10pc, the cost of hospital services rose by 12pc and health insurance soared 33pc.

At an Age Action meeting recently I asked retired factory worker Nuala if she had one request from Brian Lenihan, what would it be?

"Recognition," she answered after a brief, reflective pause. "Recognition that we are older people and that we have different needs to other people. Our needs are real, and they cannot be ignored."

Fear is not the only emotion being experienced by older people. There is also plenty of anger.

After the 2008 Budget, older people marched and protested at the Government's assault on their Over-70s Medical Card entitlements.

Many older people are planning to visit their local TDs' clinics in the coming weeks to ensure their TDs know what entitlements must be protected if the Government is to live up to its commitment to protect the most vulnerable in society.

Politicians would be wise to pay attention.

Eamon Timmins is head of advocacy and communications at Age Action. They are part of The Poor Can't Pay campaign to protect social welfare payments (www.thepoorcantpay.ie). Briefing documents for people contacting their TDs are available on 01-4756989 or at info@ageaction.ie

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