Members of Active Retirement Ireland (ARI ) in the Midlands region met in Tullamore this week to discuss the cumulative impact of austerity on the elderly to date and to raise these concerns with local representatives as Budget 2014 approaches. Many who are reliant on the State pension noted the erosion of its value due to additional taxes and rising prices. Accompanied by reduced entitlements and benefits, the elderly are at increasing risk of experiencing isolation, dependency, and deprivation. Members, in their submission, request the protection of the pension and the reversal of savage cuts made to the household benefit package introduced in Budget 2013.
The restructuring of rural transport by Bus Eireann is a major concern as the elderly depend on this service to shop, collect their pension, attend medical appointments and clinics, and meet up with family and friends. Any changes in the transport service must take these needs into consideration and recognise the social aspect it plays in keeping the elderly connected to the community. The free travel pass is a necessity for the elderly to stave off isolation and to maintain an active role in society. For car owners the costs have increased due to rising price of fuel, carbon tax, parking, insurance levy, and vehicle taxation.
The effects on cuts in the health service was a huge concern with issues regarding access to services, reduced medical card eligibility, trebling of prescription costs, reduction in chiropody, optical, dental, and aural benefits, and the increase in the drug payment threshold. There was a strong recommendation to maintain the full value of the carers allowance, respite grant, and living alone allowance. There should be no further cuts in disability payments.
Incomes have been eroded by the increasing number of new taxes. The monies collected are not diverted to local services, many noted the lack of hedge cutting on country roads this summer which led to poor visibility, a difficulty for all motorists and pedestrians but particularly for the elderly. Members expressed confusion and worry over valuation of homes for property tax purposes and are in fear of being penalised should they be inaccurate. Apprehension is heightened by the imminent introduction of the communication levy and water charges.
Unemployment has affected members of Active Retirement Ireland. Many became prematurely and unexpectedly unemployed at the start of the downturn and have been permanently out of work since and now are at an age where the prospect of returning to the workforce is diminishing. During this time children had to be educated and parents coped with rising education costs particularly at third level. Hardship exists, particularly, where grants have been reduced and eligibility thresholds were raised. It is now commonplace for adult unemployed sons/daughters to return to the family home; parents are also supporting family members by assisted mortgage payments, child care provision, and financially loaded times such as return to school and Christmas. Elderly and retired parents often are unable to attend ARI activities due to commitments to child care or school pick-ups.
All generations have been affected by austerity. There is no lucky generation, rather evidence of vital inter-generational support. ARI members will be holding meetings with local representatives to voice their concerns and issues in the forthcoming budget.