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Politicians must act: growing old shouldn't mean being afraid

Justin Moran
Written by: Justin Moran
Head of Advocacy & Communications
08/08/2017

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“I cannot afford either life or home insurance,” she wrote. “I have to go to bed early to save on heating and electricity. My husband passed away last year and I still have not paid off his funeral expenses. We did have life insurance but they cut it because we couldn’t keep up the payments.”

Age Action members launching their 2016 election manifesto

Older people have a great life. We hear it so often there must be some truth to it despite what our members tell us in the run-up to the budget.

They’re living in big houses that they should really sell so that others can buy them and they should go somewhere else – only no one ever seems to be that concerned where that somewhere is.

The State Pension wasn’t cut during the recession so they must have done well, we’re told, never mind the cuts of more than €13 a week in secondary income supports or the changes to the State Pension system in 2012 that punished carers, women and the self-employed.

Too often in this country we see older people as the problem, as dependents, as bed-blockers, as a pensions timebomb, as almost a different species rather than our future selves.

Living longer beats dying earlier

People in Ireland are living longer. This is a success story. Living longer, an Age Action member once reminded me, beats dying earlier.

We should be celebrating the contributions that older people make. More than one in two grandparents provide unpaid childcare looking after their grandchildren. This is what enables their adult children to go to work, to pursue education, to drive our economy.

And many of those grandparents would like to be working but are forced out of their jobs because of ageist and out-dated mandatory retirement contracts, which leave more people on the dole at 65 than at any other age.

Growing old in Ireland should be a positive, rewarding, experience. But, for many, it isn’t.

Growing old in Ireland should not mean growing afraid. But it does. 

Age Action members protesting against cutbacks
Age Action members protesting against cutbacks

Savings run out

“I have to draw on savings every month to pay bills,” another member wrote. “When my savings run out, I can’t begin to imagine what will happen as I get older and less able to maintain the house and pay regular bills.”

Pensioners struggling to cope with rising costs are afraid of losing their home because they can’t pay a property tax that seems destined to rise forever. They’re afraid of going into a nursing home because the supports to stay at home aren’t there.

They worry about prescription charges that rose 500 per cent since they were introduced, about nursing home fees, about how they’ll pay for medicine, about ageist car insurance premiums driving them off the road, about energy bills that are growing quickly enough without a big increase in the PSO levy.

Budgets, we’re told, are about making the hard choices. When a pensioner has to choose between which medicine he can afford that week or whether he can really afford the luxury of heating a second room, he doesn’t have much to learn about hard choices from anybody.

Older people built this country. They shouldered their share of the austerity burden. As the economy continues, with their help, to grow they have a legitimate expectation that the sacrifices they made will be acknowledged and that the cuts they endured will be reversed.

The reality is that even with increases in the State Pension over the last two budgets the income of someone on the State Pension and the household benefits package is still lower than it was seven years ago.

And we can forget that not everyone gets the top rate of the State Pension. Women, carers, self-employed, people with a broken record of PRSI contributions, get a fraction of what many people think of as ‘the pension’.

It is a bizarre anomaly of our system that a woman who works for 30 years, taking time out of the workforce to rear a family, will get a smaller pension than a woman who works only the last ten years before the pension age. 

Punishing women

We need to stop punishing women for rearing a family. We need to recognise that is a contribution to our communities, our society and our economy no less valuable than someone who goes to work.

If I paint a dark picture, it is because this is the reality for many of Ireland’s 600,000 pensioners but it is important to acknowledge progress.

Minister Jim Daly has launched a public consultation on a desperately needed statutory homecare scheme, Minister Regina Doherty has delivered improvements in how the Fuel Allowance will be paid and just this week the Taoiseach protected the family homes of older people from a crippling new tax.

We welcome the cross-party support for an increase in the State Pension in October but we need to think bigger, much bigger, if we are going to seize the opportunity presented by an ageing population.

Last month the Citizens’ Assembly voted on a number of proposals which could radically improve how Ireland supports older people – and all of us who will grow old – including the abolition of mandatory retirement, proposals for a fairer State Pension system and investment in homecare supports.

The citizens did their job. When their report is delivered to the Oireachtas at the end of September it will be up to the politicians to do theirs.

More than 600,000 registered voters will be watching. 

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Comments

I find this article so sad. This country was built by the older generation and they should not have to worry about heat/light or funeral expenses. If a person is living on SW only they can avail of an Exceptional Needs payment from SW office to cover funeral expenses.... This is means tested. Older people are not aware of their rights and entitlements. A visit to their local Citizens Information Centre will assist them. This service is free and confidential and is available in most towns and cities in Ireland

I found this article very honest. Old people are what I call the lost generation. Locked away and forgotten about. I flew home to Ireland in Dec 2016 to find my 79 year old mother living with no cooking facilities in unsanitised conditions with an abusive grandson. I removed her from her own home immediately. No support was offered and the only suggestion about getting her home back was, leave it until her will is executed. Basically, we donot care, we are waiting for her to die and then it's not our problem. I am sure there are hundreds more stories like mine. The government needs to take a good look at the standards and lifestyle we must provide for our elderly, Ireland is a first world country with old people living in third world conditions.

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Top tips for staying cool

  • Keep out of the heat. Stay inside during the hottest time of the day – late morning to mid-afternoon. If you do go out, wear a hat and keep to the shade as much as possible. It’s very important to use sun screen of at least factor 15.
  • If you are travelling by car or public transport always take a bottle of water.
  • Avoid strenuous activity and limit activities like housework and gardening to the early morning or evening when it’s cooler.
  • When inside, try to stay in the coolest parts of your home. Keep curtains and blinds closed in rooms that catch the sun. Remember that lights generate heat. Keep windows shut while it’s cooler inside than out and open them when it gets hotter inside. If it’s safe, you could leave a window open at night when it’s cooler. Fans can help sweat evaporate but do not cool the air itself.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured cotton clothing.
  • Take cool baths or showers.
  • Splash your face with cold water or place a damp cloth or scarf on the back of your neck to help you cool off.
  • Drink lots of fluid – even if you’re not thirsty. Limit drinks with caffeine (like coffee and cola) and avoid alcohol as it can increase dehydration.
  • Eat normally but try to have more cold foods, particularly salads and fruit as they contain a lot of water.

Dehydration and overheating

Extreme heat and humidity can cause you to dehydrate and your body to overheat. Watch out for certain signs: particularly for muscle cramps in your arms, legs or stomach, mild confusion, weakness or sleep problems. If you have any of these, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. Seek medical advice if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, pale skin, heavy sweating and a high temperature.

If you have any of these symptoms you must:

  • find a cool place and loosen tight clothes
  • drink plenty of water or fruit juice
  • sponge yourself with cold water or have a cool shower.

If you’re having difficulty, or your symptoms persist for several hours, seek medical advice. Heatstroke can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated - but it can also develop suddenly and without warning. The symptoms of heatstroke include hot and red skin, headaches, nausea, intense thirst, raised temperature, confusion, aggression and loss of consciousness. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition.

So if you or someone else shows symptoms:

  • call 999 immediately or 112 if you are in the European Union (you can call 112 from a mobile for free). If you have a community or personal alarm press the button on your pendant to call for help.
  • while waiting for the ambulance, follow the advice given above for heat exhaustion but do not try to give fluids to anyone who is unconscious.

Further information

If you live alone consider asking a relative or friend to visit or phone to check that you are not having difficulties during periods of extreme heat.

  • If you know a neighbour who lives alone, check they are ok.
  •  Check for weather forecasts and temperature warnings on TV and radio, and online at  https://www.met.ie/warnings
  • If you have breathing problems or a heart condition your symptoms might get worse when it’s very hot.
  • For further advice about heat-related illness contact your GP.

Summer Raffle Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our Summer Raffle. We're so grateful to everyone who participated and who raised more than 18,000 euro to support older people in Ireland.

This year's winners were:

1st Prize winner €1,500

S Deegan, Dublin

2nd Prize winner €1,000

A Parks, Dublin

3rd Prize winner €500

M Dangerfield, Dublin

And the winner of our Sellers Prize was:

Sellers Prize €100

M Kane, Galway, €100

Thank you to all who supported the raffle, this is one of our biggest and most reliable fundraisers, so your support makes all the difference.