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Minister: The old and the alone are struggling

Written by: Roger Coughlan
22/03/2018

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The Living Alone Allowance is an additional payment made every week by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to pensioners, and some people with special needs under the age of 66, who are living by themselves.

Roger Coughlan blog

It recognises the additional costs that people on low incomes face living alone. For many of those pensioners, the loss of a spouse means their household income may have been halved overnight.

But while their incomes might have been cut, their outgoings certainly haven’t and that’s why pensioners living alone are the most likely group of older people to be living in poverty, struggling to make ends meet.

So they rely on the Living Alone Allowance for an extra bit of help to pay the bills, to put food on the table, to ensure they can afford luxuries like prescriptions and keeping the heat on.

Raised just once

But over the last 22 years, since 1996, the Living Alone Allowance has been increased just once, in 2014, when it was raised by €1.30 to nine euro. That works out, over more than two decades, as an increase of around six cent every year.

Think about what you might have spent in 1996 to keep your house warm. Think about what it might have cost to put a fill of diesel into the car or to do the weekly shop. And then ask yourself whether successive governments have done enough to help older people who are living alone.

Last week, along with other Age Action members from Cork, I met with the Minister for Older People, Jim Daly TD, to talk to him about what it is like to be old and alone in Ireland.

We explained the difficulty of running a home with one income where previously you had been able to rely on two.

We talked about what it was like to lose your husband or your wife, the most important support you might have had your entire life, and then to realise how little you would be surviving on for the rest of your days.

Research

Research by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice confirms the particular challenges facing older people who are living alone.

They have examined the actual weekly cost of more than 2,000 goods and services in Ireland.

They use this to calculate detailed household budgets for all sorts of different groups of people, including pensioners, and what income they would need to have a minimum standard of living.

This shows just how difficult it is for a lone pensioner to make ends meet when a pensioner living in a rural community falls short of that minimum standard by as much as €45.

For many older people who are living by themselves the struggle is made even harder by the difficulty in getting proper homecare supports.

The waiting lists for home helps across Ireland are getting longer and longer. More older people without someone to care for them are finding themselves forced into nursing homes.

That’s why, we explained to the Minister, an increase in the Living Alone Allowance for pensioners this year is so important, along with increased resources for homecare supports.

Making hard choices

Budgets, I often read, are about making the hard choices. When pensioners have to choose between which medicine they can afford that week or whether they can really afford the luxury of heating a second room, they don’t have much to learn about hard choices from anybody.

Older people built this country. Many of us have seen our third or even fourth recession. Pensioners 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.

Even with the pension increase, delayed but welcome, that will happen later this month the reality is that only now are the incomes of pensioners being restored to where they were before the recession.

To be fair to Minister Daly, he listened to us, he heard what we had to say about helping pensioners who are living alone, to support people who need care at home and to find ways to provide sheltered housing for older people who might wish to downsize.

We know he is working on a plan to bring forward a statutory scheme to provide decent homecare in this country and many of us felt that he kept party politics out of the discussion and he focused on the issues.

But it’s one thing to be heard. It’s another thing to be understood.

Along with other Age Action members, and Ireland’s more than 600,000 pensioners, I’ll be hoping that when the budget is revealed later this year, it’ll be clear that the needs of older people, particularly those living alone, are finally understood.

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Comments

No increase in living alone allowance in 22 years, till 2014 of an insult of 1.30pw, a wopping 9euro a week! Shame on you

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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.

 


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Minister: The old and the alone are struggling | Age Action

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