Campaigning and Policy
GENERAL ELECTION 2011
Age Action staff lobbied political parties in the run up to the start of the General Election, in a bid to have issues for older people on their manifestos.
The hope is that if these issues are on the manifestos of more than one of the parties when they sit down after the election to form a coalition government, there is a greater chance that these issues will be part of the next programme for government.
The key issues were:
- Income adequacy – ensuring that all pensioners have a minimum income which protects them from poverty;
- Community-based services to enable them to remain living in their own homes and health supports such as the Over-70s Medical Card for all;
- Protecting the most vulnerable of older people – such as those with reduced mental capacity, those in severe poverty and people who are unable to heat their homes to a safe level;
- More robust structures to provide a voice and powerful advocate for older people, and to ensure that suitable policies are produced to meet the needs of our ageing population – such as the creation of the first Commissioner for Older People.
Age Action has been at pains to highlight to the politicians the high dependence levels among older people on social transfers. In the EU social transfers reduce the risk of poverty by 38% on average. In Ireland, the same figure is 73%! Nearly half of all older people here are on income in the bottom third of income groups. These people are hovering around the poverty line.
The next Government must maintain the State Pension as a key element in protecting older people from poverty and encouraging people to make private provision for their retirement income.
The State pension should at least keep them above the poverty line and remain at least at 35% of the Gross Average Industrial Income.
- Pensions “poverty trap”
We are concerned that the abolition of the State Pension (Transition) in 2014 will create a poverty trap for workers who have signed contracts to work until they are 65. They will be unable to access training and education as currently FAS will not accept workers aged over 65. This poverty trap will widen as the gap increases between the retirement and pension ages, as envisaged by the Pensions Framework.
The new Government must develop measures to protect these older workers by providing training for those who find themselves unemployed, incentives for employers to retain workers beyond 65, and tackling age discrimination.
- Anomaly with Universal Social Charge
The Government must protect pensioners on low incomes. The December Budget treats low income pensioners unfairly. It rightly exempts all social welfare payments (including the State Pension) from the Universal Social Charge, but then imposes the same charge on all civil and public service pensions (even those on pensions of less than €12,000 per annum). Pensioners on low incomes, regardless of where they come from, should be treated equally, with low pension incomes exempt from the USC.
Protecting the most vulnerable
A key priority of the next Government must be to protect the most vulnerable of older people. People can be vulnerable for a number of reasons, including low income, living alone, isolation, physical and/or mental health needs, or poor accommodation.
- Fuel Poverty
Among the key issues that must be addressed is fuel poverty. Shamefully, Ireland has an excess of winter death rate of between 1,500 and 2,000 each year. Many of these are older people, who die mainly of cold-related illnesses because they cannot afford to heat their homes to a comfortable level.
The next Government must ensure it provides adequate payments to enable them afford the heat they need. It must also target these people’s homes for insulation programmes. In addition, the publication of the energy Affordability Strategy must be a priority for the next government.
- Mental Capacity
The completion of the new Mental Capacity Bill is also important, to replace out-dated legislation and provide statutory protection for people with mental capacity issues.
The type of care many older people need is less acute and tends towards the management of chronic health conditions: rehabilitation and a mix of health and social care services. State investment in key community services of home help and home care packages is therefore crucial.
The challenge will be to ensure there are adequate resources for these services and that they are regulated, with independent inspections, to ensure they meet the necessary standards.
On the wider health issues, Age Action believes the automatic entitlement to the Over-70s Medical Card should be restored, the Nursing Home Support Act must be reviewed and community rating legislation for private health insurance must also be addressed.
Structures for a more age-friendly society
The out-going Government has carried out extensive, nation-wide consultation with older people as part of its work on the National Positive Ageing Strategy. This valuable work must not be lost. It must be published so that work can begin to implement its findings.
Other strategies which have yet to be published and which have major implications for the planning of older people’s services include the carers strategy.
Commissioner for Older People
Age Action supports the establishment of a Commissioner for Older People. The Assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales have created similar offices. We believe the Commissioner should have a role as an independent advocate for older people, with statutory powers to carry out investigations. The Commissioner would also be consulted by policy makers about other policies which would impact on older people. He/she would consult with older people, work to end all forms of age discrimination, highlight positive ageing, and ensure that the needs of older people are considered by policy makers.
Lobby your TD or Senator ahead of the Budget
Age Action is urging its members and other people who are concerned for the welfare of older people to lobby their local TD and Senator ahead of the December '10 budget. It is vital that the needs of older people are not ignored.
We have already submitted a detailed submission to the Government. After consulting our members we have identified three issues which we now want to focus the Government's attention on for Budget day. They are; income, carbon tax, fuel poverty and rural transport. We have drawn up these two-page briefing document on each to help inform members when they meeting their local TD or Senator.
We request that members provide us with feedback on their meetings with their local politician.
"The Poor Can't Pay" Campaign" Age Action has joined a number of other leading charities and trade unions to campaign against the proposed cuts to basic social welfare payments and the national minimum wage. For older people, “The Poor Can’t Pay” campaign aims to challenge the threat to State pensions and the Christmas payment.
Campaign supporters currently include Barnardos, CORI, EAPN, Focus Ireland, INOU, Mandate, National Women’s Council of Ireland, SIPTU and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Age Action is urging other older people’s groups, charities and non-party political organisations to join the campaign. To get involved and learn more about the campaign log on to www.thepoorcantpay.ie.