March 2012        

Services for the elderly under further threat

Despite coalition and Troika spin, older people have been hit by the never-ending cut-backs and austerity measures. And now agencies are bracing themselves for further cuts, as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund’s fifth review, published on 2 March.
     The IMF report says that the Government needs to cut more supports for older people, such as free travel, free electricity and gas units, and medical cards for all over-70s, and to “assess the appropriateness of the real state pension rate.”
     The report states that older people have “remained largely unaffected by recent welfare adjustments.” However, as organisations acting for older people have pointed out, over the past three years stealth adjustments and cut-backs have mounted up.
     The new assault differs from the attempt to change the eligibility for medical cards in October 2008. That attempt was met with such resistance that the then Government took fright. Since then, measures to hit the elderly have been made by stealth through an accumulation of small changes.
     The main “adjustments” made over the last three years (to June 2011) include:

(1) Lower income for those already on low income
• Loss of the Christmas welfare bonus

(2) Reduced services available to those who are sick
• Cuts to dental and optical benefits
• Hospital bed closures
• Day-care closures
• Home-help services and hours reduced
• Home-care packages reduced

(3) Regressive tax burden on those on low income
• Introduction of a carbon tax
• Introduction of universal social charge

(4) Regressive cuts to benefits and community services
• Loss of the free passport
• Cuts to grants for home insulation
• Night-time and evening rural transport terminated
• “Rationalisation” of Bus Éireann and Bus Átha Cliath services
• Cut in value of household benefit package

(5) Regressive charges
• Increase in personal spending cap for the drug repayment scheme
• Introduction of prescription charges for holders of medical cards
• Erosion and disappearance of waivers for waste charge
• The new pension levy
• Increase in the cost of living, notably in energy and insurance.

     All these measures have caused an increase in hardship among older citizens. As one retired person told us, “Things keep mounting up, with no end in sight. We’re being charged VAT on trying to stay warm, to have the security and peace of mind of a land line, and now the ESB wants to penalise us for conserving electricity.”
     And more hardship is in store as the prolonged austerity measures deepen the impact of the capitalist crisis. Savings, put together through a lifetime of work, sacrifice and scrimping, are being targeted as the elderly are forced to subsidise their increased costs from their nest eggs.
     It is all part of the coalition’s plan to get the poor to spend more so as to bail out the rich, who have fallen on leaner times.
     And all of this is to the delight of the parasitic petit-bourgeois element, which sees this transfer through economic compulsion as a source of easy pickings.
     The task for communists is to build resistance to these vicious assaults through alliances that are lasting and sustainable. It is essential that the communist message be heard and communist leadership be to the forefront. For we know that the cause is not the payments given to pensioners and the disabled but the imposition of an illegitimate, odious and perpetual debt that the state socialised and imposed on the ordinary citizen.
     It is this debt that is at the heart of the matter. It is necessary to rid ourselves of the millstone that is draining the lifeblood from our economy and people. The first step in doing this is to repudiate the debt!

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