The Government has halved the budget for providing personal security alarms to the elderly, despite a spate of recent attacks on older people in their own homes.
Funding will now only be available to qualified persons over 65 who are living alone for the purchase and installation of personal monitored alarms, to a maximum of €230 per alarm.
Last week, 96-year-old Greta Lilly used such an alarm after an aggravated burglary at her home in Buncrana. A man was yesterday released without charge over the incident.
There was fury among age rights advocates when it emerged yesterday that the budget for the seniors alert scheme — operated by the Department of the Environment and which has already been reduced in recent years — was cut to €1.15m for 2013, down from €2.2m last year.
It will mean fewer people will get funding for the device, which also involves an annual operating charge, with Age Action claiming it will put lives at risk.
Alarm budget for the elderly to be halved. Disgraceful pretty much. Talk about hitting the vulnerable people #frontpage@irishexaminer
Gerard Scully of Age Action said it was "a sly cut" to a vital service and would impact on the frail and vulnerable: "They can be a lifeline, literally. They can make a difference between living and dying. It is one more cut for older people living in the community and it belies the Government’s commitment to keep older people in the community."
The scheme is administered by community groups nationwide and, in the past three years, has seen the issuing of 23,686 devices.
That supply is now likely to dry up even further, with a department spokesman saying yesterday: "The changes in the seniors alert scheme, although regrettable, are one of a number of measures which are necessary to adhere to the department’s current expenditure ceiling for 2013, with the aim of ensuring the scheme’s sustainability and an equitable distribution of funding countrywide.
"In 2013, the scheme will be more focused on those most in need," he said, adding that the spending ceiling would be kept "under review".
The Carers Association also attacked the cut, with the group’s communications manager, Catherine Cox, saying: "These alarms are saving lives yet Government cannot see their value?
"This is yet another example of hitting the most vulnerable in society and hoping they will not fight back. Other proposed changes in criteria for the scheme will mean that an elderly couple living together, where a spouse is caring for a highly dependent loved one, will no longer qualify for the grant as they will not be deemed to be living alone."
Anne Dempsey, of Third Age, which operates the senior persons’ helpline, said an increased number of calls were being made by elderly victims of crime and those living in fear.
She said one woman who rang the helpline admitted to never sleeping at night, so concerned was she at the possibility of a break-in.
"It is death by a thousand cuts," she said of the government measure.
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Thursday, January 10, 2013