Plight of elderly people - We need a government that cares

In March of last year, prior to taking on the role of European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly spoke movingly of the plight of many older people, particularly those who ceased to engage with the world around them.

“Many older people are far from fulfilled and happy,” she said, citing loneliness and the death of a partner as the main reasons.

“One by one, the stars go out.”

Sadly, more and more of those stars are going out, to judge from the latest report of Senior Help Line, a confidential listening service for older people.

Over 28,500 calls were received last year and the service is now so stretched many calls go unanswered.

Loneliness and isolation brought about by a lack of social contact continues to be the main reason callers use the service. Among the other issues callers cite are the cost of living, cuts to services, and instances of elder abuse and feelings of suicide.

A growing trend in 2013 was the concern among older people about family members emigrating and the families they leave behind.

According to Áine Brady, CEO of Senior Helpline, the huge volume of calls they received last year reflects the concerns and worries elderly people experience.

“We are seeing an increase in demand for our services and, worryingly, we are receiving twice as many calls as we can answer,” she said.

Is it any wonder there is an increase in demand when you consider the unfair burden placed on the aching shoulders of the poor and elderly by the Government’s relentless pursuit of austerity? Budget after budget has seen cut follow cut until there is little left to share among those who had little enough to begin with.

The plight of our elderly people has even drawn the attention of the Council of Europe, one of the world’s most active human rights organisations. A report published yesterday by the council warns of the devastating effect that the Government’s austerity policies have had on Ireland’s poor and elderly.

Here at home, those concerns are echoed in a report due today by the Simon Community which shows an urgent need to address the problem of an ageing population of homeless and struggling to deal with serious challenges of ill health and dying.

While the young people of Ireland may lament the effects of savage austerity, at least they have a future and a choice of emigrating if they so wish. Most elderly have neither. Their past may have been filled with a lifetime of hard work and service to their community but that counts for little nowadays. Their future is short, to say the least, and getting less promising every day.

You won’t hear too many robust Dáil debates on the plight of the elderly. They have become the forgotten people of Ireland — ignored and all but abandoned.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Emily O’Reilly had called on politicians and public bodies to acknowledge that elderly people were ill-served by our institutions.

That would be a good start, but we need more than recognition; we need action as well.

We need a government that cares and politicians who can think beyond the next election.

Show us you give a damn, Taoiseach. You will be old one day, too.

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