ALONE call for focused Government support of older people as Budget 2019 is released

ALONE, the charity that supports older people to age at home, has welcomed the increase to the state pension announced this afternoon as part of Budget 2019, but has stated that further Government action is needed to support Ireland’s older people. 

Following today’s Budget 2019 announcement, Seán Moynihan, CEO of ALONE, commented, “Today’s Budget shows some promise for older people. However, it does not go far enough, particularly concerning housing and homecare issues.”

Considering measures to combat the housing crisis for older people, Seán Moynihan said, “The focus should be on providing housing with supports for older people and further funding to the Housing Aid for Older People Scheme, in order to prevent a larger crisis to come. The increase in funding for Housing Adaptation Grants to €57 million, from €53 million, will enable up to 11,800 adaptations to better facilitate older people to age in their own homes.”

“However, from our assessment in our housing report, ‘Housing Choices for Older People in Ireland – Time for Action,’ we identified demand for grants for older people of €84.5 million per year, and we had hoped for a larger increase in funding for that scheme,” he continued. “We hope that our report will influence the housing investment announced by the Minister for Finance today.”

While an increased homecarers’ credit of €300 to €1,500 per year was welcomed, ALONE are also disappointed that no increase to homecare was included in Budget 2019. This follows a pre-budget submission by the charity calling for an increase of €102 million in Home Support Hours. ALONE was one of more than 20 organisations which came together last week to call for an additional €100 million investment in homecare.

The charity welcomed the Government’s investment of €84 million to mental health funding. Having established the Loneliness Taskforce in collaboration with Senator Keith Swanick earlier this year, the charity is working to highlight the impact loneliness can have towards the health and well-bring of older people throughout Ireland. The Loneliness Taskforce is calling for €3 million of this new funding to be assigned to loneliness and social isolation.

ALONE welcomed the increase to the pension, but also called for further action. “While we welcome the €5 increase to the pension, this is below the National Pensions Framework target of 35% of average earnings, which would require a €13 increase to the state pension. For pensioners living alone in rural areas, the income from a contributory pension will only meet the cost of 85% of their expenses. We had hoped that this year’s budget would reach the halfway point of an increase of €6.50 and are disappointed to note that the €5 increase is delayed until March 2019,” Moynihan said.

In terms of social benefits announced for older people, Moynihan commented, “The restoration of the Christmas bonus will be a welcome relief for many older people in the run-up to the holidays. The extension of the fuel allowance to 28 weeks is also encouraging, but as one in ten older people are unable to keep their home adequately warm, we believe that this should have been restored to 32 weeks. Similarly, the Living Alone allowance directly impacts the living conditions of older people across the country and we had hoped that an increase to €14 per week might be introduced.“

In response to the 50c reduction in prescription charges for over-70s and updated health care costs, Seán Moynihan commented, “The reduction is a move in the right direction as the prescription charge has had serious health implications for older people over the last number of years. Likewise, the reduced threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme by €10 and the increase of income thresholds by €25 for GP visit cards will hopefully lighten the financial burden when an older person’s health requires attention.”