Both the opposition and elderly groups have accused the Government of “savagely targeting” pensioners and putting them at risk in their homes as they won’t be able to use life-saving pendant security alarms — now the telephone allowance is to be cut.
There has been a ferocious reaction to cuts to the elderly in 2014 which include the removal of the telephone allowance, a five-fold rise in prescription charges from €1.50 to €2.50, the lowering of medical card thresholds for more than 35,000 over 70s, the reduction of tax relief on health insurance, and the abolition of the bereavement grant.
According to Fianna Fáil, the abolition of the telephone allowance will affect more than 394,671 people, including the old, the disabled, and carers.
Almost 30,000 carers rely on this allowance while more than 56,000 disabled people also receive it.
James McCann, chair of Sallynoggin Neighbourhood Watch (SNW), said: “Without a telephone line many older people will not have the facility for a security pendant alarm. It is an essential piece of lifesaving equipment and the Government are putting lives at risk with this underhanded move.”
SNW is a community operator of the Senior Alert Scheme, which gives grant aid towards personal alarms to people in the community. The scheme came under attack last year from proposed government cuts but following a campaign, the planned cuts were reversed.
“With the Government’s most recent move we are seriously concerned that another effort will be made to cut the senior alert scheme on the basis of reduced demand caused by older people needing to sacrifice their phone lines,” said Mr McCann.
However, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton denied pensioners had been singled out in this budget and said they “had their key entitlements protected and they compared extremely favourably with some of the best off societies in Europe”.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio, she said her department would be working with community groups like SNW to expand the rollout of the personal alert schemes and will also be “working with companies involved in technological change to link them to mobile phones”. She said there would be “a lot more value available” if alarms were linked to more than just landlines. She could not confirm however if such technology would be in place by the time the allowance is abolished in January.
Respond! chief operations officer, Ned Brennan said “the telephone is a vital form of comfort and security for an older person living alone” and they will be further isolated and at risk without a landline.
Senior Helpline’s Anne Dempsey also said many of their callers lead lives “of quiet, desperate loneliness” as their families have grown up and spouses and often friends have died.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection and social equality, Willie O’Dea said the abolition of the allowance “threatens the very security and welfare of the old, the disabled and their carers”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved