Elderly community in fear after cuts to support scheme

“Savage” cuts in a scheme that allows older people to buy panic buttons and add security features to their homes is leaving Westmeath’s elderly terrified in their homes.

The Scheme of Community Support for Older People which is designed to support initiatives to improve the security and social support of vulnerable older people by funding the purchase of panic buttons, locks, door chains, and door and window strengthening measures has seen a cut of more than €100,000 in 2009.

In 2008 Westmeath’s elderly could avail of grants totalling €137,160 but in the first ten months of 2009, that sum had dropped to €33,275.

Mullingar’s Anthony Gilligan, an elected member of the Senior Parliament and their spokesperson on health issues, says there is genuine fear among older people.

“I wouldn’t walk down the town at 12 o’clock [at night] – and I’m a native of Mullingar,” he said. “I asked three guys of my vintage and they said the same thing.”

“People are scared,” he said, commenting on recent discussions on Joe Duffy’s show warning older people about con artists who call to their houses offering to do jobs.

Security chains, panic buttons, and good community alert schemes mean people are less likely to be terrified of “all these guys coming to doors and codding people, offering to fix their water, etc”.

“Alarms are important,” he told the Advertiser and went on to describe the crushing loneliness felt by older people. Friends and neighbours often call during the day, “but at six o’clock [in the evening] all these people have their own lives”.

“What are they supposed to do then? Fall happily asleep and go to bed until 8am and see no one? No wonder they are fearful, no wonder they get worried, no wonder that depression will set in.”

He believes old people are very proud and don’t want to be seen to be begging, or looking for sympathy.

The recent cold snap, which saw older people around the country isolated in their homes with dwindling supplies of food, fuel and company has been particularly hard.

“It’s been a very difficult winter,” he said, “very, very difficult”, and he called for the reintroduction of the €200 Christmas bonus to the elderly who are on State pensions.

In the face of cuts for funding of security equipment, and with the Gardaí “doing the best they can in difficult circumstances” it’s time for the community to pitch in,

“We need to know that community is not just a name but that it has an identity.”

Fine Gael Spokesperson on Justice, Minister Charlie Flanagan, who released the figures showing cuts in the older person’s community support scheme, described the cuts as “savage” and is demanding a Dáil debate on elderly people and how they are affected by crime.

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