(20 May 2021) Age Action addressed the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Mental Health highlighting how the ageism that was evident during the response to COVID-19 pandemic has impacted older people including their mental health.
Age based measures such as cocooning reinforced ageist stereotypes and failed to reflect the diversity of experience and resilience in older age. Age Action told the Committee how we heard from many older people who felt that the representation of all older people as “vulnerable” during the pandemic contributed to ageism and stigmatisation by putting a focus on vulnerability over autonomy.
Throughout the pandemic, public discourse about older people portrayed COVID-19 as a disease of older people, leading to social stigma, discrimination and exacerbating negative stereotypes about older persons which can have a detrimental impact on people’s mental health. As noted by the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, while older people have become highly visible in the COVID-19 outbreak, their voices, opinions and concerns have not been heard. Age Action continues to call for the appointment of a Commissioner for Older Persons to provide independent voice for older people and accountability from Government.
To highlight the fact that ageism must be addressed in all policies, settings and practices Age Action intends to make ageism the focus of Positive Ageing Week which will coincide with UN International Day of Older Persons on Friday 1 October and we look forward to engaging with Government representatives, relevant Departments and broader stakeholders as we begin to apply the lessons of COVID-19.
Age Action told the Committee how people who live in nursing homes carried the burden of COVID-19 both in terms of the impact of the disease itself and response measures which saw their right to life, to family life and participation in society undermined. People have a right to choice and control over their lives, including where and how they are cared for and Age Action called for the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Nursing Homes and the Oireachtas Special Committee on COVID-19 Response Measures related to residential care need to be urgently implemented. The proposed Commission on Care should be urgently established to address the long-known inadequacies in our long-term care infrastructure the Committee heard.
Age Action gave evidence of the importance of targetted efforts to support the digital inclusion of older people through both digital skills training and fincnaical supports to overcome barriers to material access. The Committee heard how Age Action modified the Getting Started Programme to provide people with free step by step guides on how to access the internet, download Apps and use Zoom as well as training over 700 people with the help of tutors through the Getting Started KIT initiative.
Noting the lack of financial supports available to older people during the pandemic Age Action explained how Budget 2021 saw no increase in the core State Pension rates: it did not allow for any increase in the cost of living or support to people to withstand the economic shock of lockdown which resulted in some people experiencing financial hardship. Age Action called on Government to commission a study on the Cost of Ageing, similar to the study on the Cost of Disability, so that social protection measures can be better informed by this evidence.