Elderly being ‘softened up’ for cuts: Campaigner

Campaigners for the elderly have voiced concerns that older people have been “softened up” to take a hit in the budget.

“They are certainly being softened up for a hit,” said Older and Bolder director Patricia Conboy yesterday. “There is no doubt about that.”

She said it was a myth that older people had escaped unscathed from the economic crisis.

“It’s simply untrue to suggest that older people have been untouched by cuts since the economic crisis.

“Older people are a diverse group. Nonetheless, the fact is that the State pension protects 91% of older people against the risk of poverty.

“The taxation system is the mechanism through which better-off older people should, and do, make their contribution to the exchequer.”

Ms Conboy said that while it looked like the pension and free travel would be left alone in tomorrow’s budget, it was likely new eligibility criteria would be set for the medical card.

She said individuals and families in the middle-income group were likely to be the most affected by the medical card changes.

“It is always individuals and families on a middle income who get caught when there is fiddling around with means testing. It is inefficient and generates anomalies.”

Ms Conboy said Older and Bolder was in favour of universal access to benefits and a progressive tax system.

“Why aren’t we starting from the top in terms of the highest earners, including older people, paying more tax?” she asked.

She said more should have been done to realise savings in the State’s drugs’ bill and recoup costs from private insurance companies.

She also said there were ways of dealing with the household package of allowances available to older people through taxation.

The allowances could be treated by Revenue as a benefit in kind to ensure they were made to those who really needed them, she suggested.

She said the number of free units provided under the gas and electricity allowance to the 2007 level was reduced in Budget 2011.

However, the telephone allowance was not cut and there has been much speculation that it may be targeted tomorrow.

Ms Conboy said Older and Bolder believed older people who could pay the property tax should pay it while they are alive and not after death.

“If people can pay the charge when they are alive, they should pay it then. Older people do work hard so they can arrive in later life debt free.

“Going after people’s estate after death is like chasing corpses. There is something absolutely distasteful and wrong about that.”

Age Action’s head of advocacy and communications, Eamon Timmins, said the group was extremely worried older people would not be able to live with dignity after the budget.

“Many older people depend on the State for some key supports. They have no Plan B if they are cut,” he said.

Pensioners’ rights

Household benefit package rates in 2012:

* Electricity allowance — 1,800 units annually (300 units every two months)

* Electricity (group account allowance) — €39.40 monthly

* Natural gas allowance €48.20 every two months in the summer and €102.20 every two months in the winter

* Bottled gas allowance — €37.60 monthly

* Telephone — €22.58 as credit on a bill and €22.60 as a cash telephone allowance

* Television licence — Upon qualifying for the household benefits package, a person becomes eligible for a free television licence from the next renewal date.

* There are social welfare payments for living alone, and increases are made on reaching 80 years of age and for living on a specified island.

* Free travel can be used by those who hold a senior smart pass card.

* The energy allowance only applies to gas or electricity, not both.

* The national fuel scheme is a means-tested payment to help those who cannot afford their own eating costs.

* The housing aid for older people is a local authority grant for improving homes below basic standards and mainly targeted at older people living in rural areas.

* The housing adaptation grant is for people with a disability who may qualify for it and the mobility aids grants scheme can be used for access ramps or a stairlift.

* citzeninformation.ie

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