Thursday 17 August 2017

Charlie Weston: We can't afford to ignore the Citizens' Assembly's recommendations on older people

'It makes sense to start putting money aside now to fund long-term care of older people.' (Stock photo)
'It makes sense to start putting money aside now to fund long-term care of older people.' (Stock photo)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Sensible suggestions emerged from the Citizens' Assembly on pensions, the care of the elderly and the ageing of the population. As a nation, we need to wake up to the greying of our population and the challenges that this poses.

The latest census figures show that the over-65 age group saw the largest increase in population since 2011, rising by more than 100,000 to close to 640,000.

Over half-a-million in this older age group live in private households, an increase of 20pc, while those in nursing homes increased by close to 2,000 to 22,762.

The assembly got to the heart of many of the issues facing older people. It called for a new tax on workers to fund elderly care.

This would take the form of a compulsory social insurance payment. This is something similar to pay-related social insurance (PRSI).

Alternatively, it could be an earmarked tax on all workers, linked to labour market participation.

It makes sense to start putting money aside now to fund long-term care of older people. Otherwise, the costs will come out of the Exchequer, which has more than enough demands on it already.

Also recommended is the abolition of the mandatory retirement age. This is where people are forced to retire at the age of 65, yet do not qualify for the state pension until at least a year later.

The assembly wants some form of compulsory supplementary pension scheme for the roughly one million workers who will only have the state pension when they retire.

This is something that has been talked about, with official policy statements issued on it, in this country for a quarter of a century.

There is much merit in having a minister for older people to ensure greater government accountability.

The assembly also called for the care of older people accessing home care to be put on a statutory footing. It recommended an increase in public resources for the elderly.

The recommendations will now be brought to the Oireachtas for consideration.

The problem is that we are world-beaters at producing good reports on older people and pensions. You could fill a large skip with the reports that have been produced in the last 25 years. But we are world-losers when it comes to implementing these plans and strategies.

Action is what is needed now.

Waffle and fudge are no longer acceptable.

Otherwise, we will have missed a huge opportunity to deal with issues that have been well signalled.

The Government should also be mindful that older people vote - and vote in numbers.

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