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Derek Davis: Be warned - taking on pensioners is bad for us all

POLITICIANS with short memories tend to have short careers, a lesson that can be hard learnt by those attempting to pick the pockets of the elderly.

Even the unsettling threat or kite flown by a junior minister creates huge hostility because older people hate uncertainty.

As one ages, there are questions over one's health and mobility. The ability to earn extra cash is curtailed or non-existent. Everything has to be planned and carefully budgeted. There are cutbacks on heating, entertainment, even food in some cases. There is an underlying fear that inflation will erode their pensions or that medical bills will overwhelm them.

The pension is their security that, come what may, they can get by with some dignity and independence. Many have underwritten liabilities incurred by their children.

For perhaps 40 years or more they have paid into pension schemes; enjoyed only a decade of prosperity, if they were lucky; raised children; and struggled to arrive at the great breathing space we call retirement. They have earned it. How mean-minded to begrudge that generation the security of their old age and to chisel away at the few perks the state has given them.

Free travel is available to those over 66 and their spouse or carer. It is a notional charge and a way of giving CIE a subsidy but to threaten its withdrawal is petty and mean.

That decade of mad prosperity caused many young couples to move far from the family home. Those new families are in the commuter towns and their ageing relatives are isolated. Free travel is an invaluable way for contact to be maintained. It is to everyone's benefit. Three generations stay close. There are also definable economic benefits.

Ask any hotelier 'who keeps the doors open and the lights on during the off season?' and you will be told that it is the older generation using their travel concessions and taking up the special offers, often with active retirement groups. The rural elderly can afford to remain independent and maintain contact with their communities because they know that where transport is available they can go to town, shop, keep a doctor's appointment and socialise.

That travel pass is a lifeline. It is a small but significant reward for a life-time's work and there is little point in means-testing it since the very rich are less likely to use it and to work out disposable income you'd have to look at medical costs, family liabilities, home help, etc.

We were all young once and old age was on the very distant horizon or just beyond. It comes into view too soon and quite suddenly someone from HR is wishing you well on your retirement while you are doing the sums to see if you can still afford to pay your medical insurance.

By the time you hit 70 it will all have seemed like such a short life and the chances are you will be on first name terms with a number of medical practitioners who require regular reward for their work. A medical card can be the difference between life and death; independence or the wretched indignities of poorly resourced infirmity.

This is worth noting by anyone whose attitude is 'Screw the coffin dodgers, they don't matter'. In what will seem like a very short time indeed you will, if you are lucky, be elderly and on a pension. The life you dictate for pensioners now will be your life in such a short time. Their present is your future. Mind you, if you are a politician who thinks the elderly are plump pigeons ripe for the plucking you might get to collect your gilt-edged pension a bit earlier.

Irish Independent