Growing old should not mean growing poor
Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30
More than half a million older people are eligible to vote in next week's General Election. In 2011, turnout among voters over the age of 65 was 88pc, far higher than the national average.
These votes will be critical in constituencies across this country, in deciding the make-up of the next government.
They are not dependents, nor 'pension time bombs', nor 'bed-blockers'. They are men and women whose hard work helped see us through the last recession. They continue to run our community groups, our GAA clubs and to care for their grandchildren to enable their own children to go to work.
During the last fortnight, working with Active Retirement Ireland, Age Action organised election debates across the country attended by hundreds of older voters.
In a Cork hotel corridor, a woman struggled to tell me how hard she was finding it to cope because she can't get home help hours to help her look after her mother.
At a meeting in Dún Laoghaire, a woman told the candidates seeking her vote how her family is facing medical bills of hundreds of euro every month since her mother's medical card was taken off her at the age of 95 for being €3 over the limit.
And a meeting in Dublin heard from a man trying to pay the property tax on a small fixed income because he wants to stay in the home in which he reared his family, in the community that he loves with the neighbours he knows and trusts.
But what also came through at many of those meetings was how worried many older voters are for their own children.
Ageing is an issue that affects everyone who hopes to grow old in Ireland but our systems of care are already struggling to cope.
There are a million fewer home help hours available now than there were in 2006, despite a huge increase in demand. How will we fare in 2046 when there will be almost 1.5 million people over the age of 65, many of them needing support to stay in their own homes?
Every political party has told us they are committed to enabling older people to stay at home as long as possible, but which of them has a plan to do so? And knows where they're going to get the money to pay for it?
A decent income is essential to enable people to age with dignity but many are struggling to cope with rising costs and new taxes and charges.
Some pensioners, particularly women, find themselves with greatly reduced pensions because of changes to the PRSI rate bands brought in by the Government in 2012. Many women pensioners find themselves financially punished for having gone to work.
Simply maintaining the State Pension costs the State an additional €200m every year. Older voters want, and need, an increase in their pension to help them make ends meet but they also want to ensure there is a decent State Pension for their own children.
How are future governments going to ensure that growing old in Ireland does not mean growing poor?
The National Positive Ageing Strategy outlines Ireland's vision for ageing and older people. It provides a blueprint for how policies and services could be designed to protect the rights of older people. It took three governments and six years just to get it published. And it's sitting on a shelf.
More than two and a half years since it was launched, there is no sign of an implementation plan. There is no one working to ensure the strategy is delivered. There is no coordinated approach to ageing issues across the various government departments.
Our political leaders talk about an 'age friendly society' and supporting 'positive ageing' but, in the next government, who will bring together all of those tasked with supporting older people? Who will sit at the Cabinet table and drive the changes that are needed to guarantee that all of us can age with dignity?
The next government must be one that thinks beyond the next five years, past preparing for the next election.
The next government, the one that will be elected with the votes of hundreds of thousands of older voters, must understand its responsibility to today's older people but also to all of us who hope to grow old in Ireland.
Justin Moran is head of advocacy and communications with Age Action