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Jul 19, 2012Active Retirement Ireland Calls on TDs to Safeguard Living Standards for Older People

Future budgetary measures must not impact negatively on older people’s quality of life or prevent them from living at home and ageing healthily within their own communities.  That’s according to Active Retirement Ireland (ARI), the national representative body for 544 Active Retirement Associations, with a total membership of over 22,500 people. 


Publishing a position paper on the Free Travel Scheme today (19.07.12), Maureen Kavanagh, Chief Executive Officer of ARI, said: “Today is the last day of the current Dáil term, and we are using this occasion to remind TDs about the vulnerable position in which many of their older constituents find themselves.


“When the Dáil resumes in the autumn, there will be a huge focus on the pending budget.  We would like to hear a commitment from all TDs before then that they will safeguard the interests of older people in preparing any budget proposals.”


Government policy since 2008 has slowly eroded living standards for older people, according to ARI.


“A combination of increased taxation and reduced income supports means many older people are now struggling to make ends meet,” said Ms. Kavanagh.  “It has become more expensive for them to heat their homes due to rising fuel prices and the introduction of a carbon tax, coupled with a reduction in the fuel allowance entitlement.  In many cases, this has led to fuel poverty, making it difficult for older people to stay warm in their homes, especially during the winter months.  This has an obvious impact on their health.


“If they succumb to illness, changes to medical card entitlements and the introduction of prescription charges in recent years make it more difficult now for older people to afford the healthcare and medicines they need.  Cutbacks to the Home Care Package and the Household Benefits Package, and the suspension of the Christmas bonus payment, have also chipped away at older people’s quality of life. 


“In simple terms, the overall impact of budget cuts in recent years has been that older people find it more difficult to age well at home or to remain in their communities for as long as they wish.  But the Government is fooling itself if it believes that reducing benefits for older people will ultimately result in savings.  It is a widely acknowledged fact that it costs less to have older members of our population ageing healthily at home than it does to have them in long-term residential care.  As such, it makes sense to ensure older people are provided with the supports they need to age healthily within their own homes.”


Free Travel Scheme

The Free Travel Scheme is one of the measures that facilitates older people’s independence and enhances their quality of life, according to ARI.  In the policy paper launched by the organisation today, a number of benefits of the scheme are detailed, for both older people and society at large. 


“The Free Travel Scheme enables older people to attend medical appointments, to remain active and social and to access a whole host of services, institutions and amenities, which might otherwise fall beyond their reach,” said Maureen Kavanagh.  “This is particularly true for older people living in rurally isolated areas. 


“Our research shows this scheme benefits not just the older people who have Free Travel passes themselves, but also society as a whole.  Because of that, politicians must ensure this scheme is protected in future budgets.  For many older people struggling with ill health and limited mobility, losing their Free Travel pass would mean they could no longer remain in their homes or their communities in the long term.” 


Ms. Kavanagh said the Free Travel Scheme provides a boost for local economies and for civic society. 


“Older people who use the scheme generate positive outcomes that benefit the Irish economy and civic society,” she said.  “There are direct economic benefits through increased levels of domestic tourism on the island of Ireland and through older people’s patronage of businesses, restaurants, hotels and cultural amenities, which they access by using their travel passes.  Furthermore, the scheme encourages older people to make greater use of public transport, thus improving traffic congestion, particularly in larger cities and towns. 


“The Free Travel Scheme also enables older people, who may otherwise be restricted in their movements or even trapped at home, to engage in a variety of pursuits that benefit local communities, for example, volunteering or acting as carers for sick or ageing relatives or friends.  Without this scheme, many older people would be at risk of isolation – which could, in turn, lead to depression and ill-health.  Indeed, we know from our own members that many would be unable to attend their regular Active Retirement meetings or participate in social occasions if they could not avail of free travel.”


The position paper on the Free Travel Scheme, published by ARI today, is available to download at:  Over the coming months, ARI will be working with its 22,500 members throughout the country to encourage them to brief their local TDs on safeguarding living standards for older people in forthcoming budget deliberations.

Click DOWNLOAD to read the Position Paper on Free Travel

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