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Cherishing our older people

Speaker's Corner
Cherishing our older people

JAMES REDDIOUGH

Age Action West has joined four other organisations working with older people to launch the ‘Older and Bolder’ campaign, which we believe is necessary to put ageing issues back on the political agenda. And we now need the public’s support.
We want to ensure our politicians make Ireland a place where older people are valued, not discriminated against, where retirement means financial security, not poverty, and where the health services help people live independently and happily in their own homes for as long as they wish.
The campaign is rallying public support for the development of a national strategy for older people. We want the voice of older people to be heard and for older people to be valued. You can support the campaign by logging onto the website www.olderandbolder.ie or using the contact details at the bottom of this article.
And, no, these issues should not just be of interest to older people themselves. They should concern all age groups – as sons and daughters, concerned citizens and people who aspire to be old one day themselves.
The needs of older people have often been forgotten by our policy makers. While we are one of  the wealthiest countries in Europe, our spend on pensions is just a third of the EU average. The non-contributory pension is just €182 per week, while the contributory pension is €193.30. As a result almost a third of our pensioners are at risk of poverty.
Even if the Government honours its 2002 commitment and brings the non-contributory pension to €200 in next month’s Budget, it will leave many pensioners under the poverty line, which currently stands at €203.55.
Our health services have also let older people down. We have one of the lowest per capita spends on social services in Europe. Community care services – which enable older people remain in their own homes – are, at best, patchy.
Older patients also routinely face age discrimination at the hands of the health services when it comes to treatment for cancer, cardiac problems, stroke and intensive care services. Free breast cancer screening is available to women aged between 50 and 64 in certain counties, but not those over-64.
The ‘Older and Bolder’ campaign is targeting all political parties and General Election candidates to commit to developing a national strategy for older people. We believe that the new strategy could tackle the major obstacles currently hindering older people’s ability to live full and active lives.
The strategy should ensure all government policies are age-proofed, to remove discrimination against older people. It should work to remove all older people from the poverty trap by ensuring the target income for pensioners should be 50% of their pre-retirement income before tax, and the minimum pension reaches 40% of the gross average industrial wage.
The strategy would also include measures to ensure older people can live in their own communities for as long as possible. These would include increased availability of home help and home care services, and improved public transport (especially in rural areas). 
There is also a need for more suitable housing for older people, such as complexes like St Brendan’s Village in Mulranny, where the needs of people of high and low dependency are met through having a nursing home, day centre and sheltered housing on one site.
We believe the Older and Bolder campaign is necessary if we are to focus the minds of our politicians on what needs to be done for older people.  But we need people to sign up to the campaign, sign and return the campaign post card and then use the ‘suggested questions’ card which is part of the campaign pack to raise these issues with canvassers and politicians.
If you wish to support the campaign visit www.olderandbolder.ie, Locall 1890 252 450 or contact Age Action Ireland at 30/31 Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2 (01 4756989).