Age Action has warned that many older people will struggle over the next 12 months, as a result of measures announced in today’s Budget.
“We are seriously concerned that not enough was done to protect the most vulnerable of pensioners,” Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins said. “A €2 increase in the fuel allowance will do little to protect older people who are trying to heat their homes against soaring fuel prices. It would not buy half a bale of briquettes.”
While welcoming the extension of the payment period for the fuel allowance by two weeks, Mr Timmins claimed that the fuel crisis was so serious in Ireland that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 additional deaths here each winter because people are unable to afford to heat their homes adequately.
Similarly, Age Action believes the €7 increase in the State Pension (contributory and non-contributory) is not enough to insulate those pensioners who depend solely on this pension for their survival from soaring food and fuel prices.
In the last 12 months prices have increased sharply (milk has risen 25%, flour 34% and liquid fuels by 34%).
Age Action noted that the 1% levy would also hit any pensioner with any income above the state pension.
“In the light of the increases announced today, the State is giving to some of the poorest citizens in the state with one hand and it taking back with another, at a time when pensioners are struggling to make ends meet,” Mr Timmins said.
Age Action believes the decision to abolish the automatic entitlement to a medical card for over-70s is a backward step which will hurt older people and have a negative impact on the public health system.
“The over-70s medical card plays a key role in helping many older people remain living in their own homes. The guaranteed access it provided for holders to a GP meant that their health and well being is monitored and protected at community level, thereby taking pressure off the acute hospitals and nursing homes.”
“This was one of the key reasons why it was introduced in 2001. Seven years later this reason is even more relevant.
“To reintroduce the means test flies in the face of the current push towards community care and the drive to keep older people out of hospitals and nursing homes. It will not result in any reduction in illness among older people but ensure that by the time they came to doctors’ surgeries that their illnesses would be more advanced. ”
Mr Timmins said that when the automatic entitlement was also introduced in 2001, 89% of older people would have passed the means test.
“To bring back means testing now would merely result in long delays and paperwork, before the majority of applicants received their cards,” said Timmins.
Age Action believes there will be hidden costs as a result of the decision to abolish automatic entitlement. It claimed that apart from increased numbers of older people who may be hospitalised or to go into residential care as a result, and the greater difficulty in providing adequate community services to enable them to be discharged from hospital when they are ready to go home, cancellation of medical cards will result in additional costs for prescription drugs through the Drug Payment Scheme.
“Many older people may also still qualify for the GP visit card. These factors and more have to be carefully considered before the full costs and savings of today’s move can be calculated,” said Timmins.
Age Action welcomed the decision to give a €400 annual grant to those who did not qualify for the medical card, but noted that when doctors’ fees and the cost of medication was included, it would cover less than four visits to a GP in the year.
There are currently more than 420,000 people aged 70 or more in Ireland.