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Cuts in alarms security for elderly adds to cynicism about government commitment to ‘protect the most vulnerable in our society’.

Posted By Veronica On January 10, 2013 @ 1:11 pm In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

It’s all over the media this morning – how the government has targeted the most vulnerable in society in possibly the most mean-spirited of all the mean-spirited cuts in Budget 2013. From now on, social monitored personal alarms will only be made available to 65 year olds living alone, who qualify for the scheme, to a maximum cost of €230 per alarm. The budget for the scheme, administered by the Department of the Environment,  which over the past three years has benefitted some 7,000 elderly people annually, has been cut from €2.4m in 2012 to €1.15m this year. Over the past three years the scheme has cost the Exchequer €8.3m, which is less than the amount paid out in TDs’ allowances and expenses per annum.

As reported on the front page of today’s Irish Daily Mail, while all this was going through in the Budget, the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, was on his middle-east trip in Doha to save the world from climate change.  Defenders of the Minister charge the Mail with negative nitpicking and conflating unrelated issues. They may indeed have a point. However, the Minister’s absence from the Dail on Budget Day was notable, and since the date of the Budget as well as the date of the climate conference were well-known in advance, the Minister’s judgement in opting for a foreign assignment is questionable.

The Irish delegation to Doha is reputed to have cost the Irish taxpayer in the region of €30,000. It is arguable that it required the attendance of a senior Minister, either for the short speech which Phil Hogan delivered at the Conference proper or for any trade promotion duties that were arranged around such an Irish ministerial presence in the region. A junior Minister, such as the New Era Minister, Fergus O’Dowd, might have fitted the bill for Doha just as well.

The politics of this latest cut to services for the elderly are awful: as burgarlies rise, horrific reports of elderly people being attacked in their homes become more prevalent, and a crisis apparently looms in our policing service, reports that funding for personal alarm services for the elderly have now been halved only add to public cynicism that government rhetoric about  ‘protecting the most vulnerable in our society’ is newspeak at its worst: this government couldn’t care less about the ‘vulnerable’.

But nobody should be too surprised that a scheme that ostensibly protects lives and is an important part of the support infrastructure that enables older people to continue to live independently in their homes has had its funding chopped in half. Such an eventuality was flagged by the then Junior Health Minister, Roisin Shorthall, in a Seanad Adjournment debate, as far back as 15 November, 2011. In response to queries about the scheme from Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, the then Minister stated:

“I am pleased to have an opportunity to address the Seanad on the benefits of socially monitored alarms for older people to promote independent living. This year alone the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will assist over 7,000 older people by providing grants for this vital equipment.

“The new seniors alert scheme was introduced on 24 May 2010 and replaced the scheme of community support for older people. The scheme provides grant support towards the cost of supplying and installing items of safety and security equipment to enable older people without sufficient means to continue to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind. The eligibility criteria have remained broadly the same as they were under the CSOP but community groups have been given improved guidance and information on how to determine eligibility. This is central to the improvements introduced in the new scheme. The CSOP was confined to those aged 65 years and older who were considered vulnerable and this left a lot to the discretion of volunteers. Community groups requested greater guidance in this regard and the revised scheme states more explicitly the criteria to be used.

“Generally, a person will be eligible for grant support if he or she is aged 65 years or older, of limited means and resources, living alone or with another person who meets the eligibility criteria and is able to benefit from the equipment supplied. Grants may be provided towards the cost of supplying and installing equipment. The grants include up to €240 for personal monitored alert systems with pendant, up to €75 for monitored smoke detectors, €100 for monitored carbon monoxide detectors, up to €50 for additional pendants or reinstallation, as much as €120 for internal emergency lighting, and €50 for external security lighting.

“Funding of €2.35 million has been provided for the seniors alert scheme in 2011. The Minister anticipates that some 7,000 older persons will benefit from the scheme this year. To the end of October 2011, some €2.054 million in grant support has been provided to 374 community groups for the provision of items of safety and security equipment to 6,539 older people.”

All good and well. But the real meat was contained in the final two paragraphs of Roisin Shortall’s reply:

The changes introduced as part of the review of the scheme have made a significant impact on its operation and availability. The Minister is very conscious of the benefits of the seniors alert scheme, which provides security and the ability to achieve independent living at home. He will do his utmost to ensure that this scheme can continue into the future. This will be in the context, however, of reduced funding being made available to Departments in 2012. Personal security is a critical factor in people being able to remain in their homes and in many cases this has been a life-saver for people.

The Minister will take into account the benefits of this scheme in promoting independent living for so many and the possibility of doing this at a limited cost to the State in any future decisions on funding of the seniors alert scheme.”

UPDATE: Congratulations to the lobby groups on behalf of older people in our society who worked so hard and effectively to secure a U-turn by the government on this issue, as announced in recent days. Well done!

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