Article re over 50s Pre-election Policies of Political Parties back in 2002
We are now weeks away from the General Election that will decide who takes over the reins of government after five years of the Fianna Fáil-PD coalition. It has become common, in recent political commentary, to question whether or not one political party can be distinguished from another, and whether or not it makes any difference who is in the saddle. Certainly on a great many issues the parties adopt similar stances so as not to alienate the middle ground. And on other issues, though they may take strong positions, they have no power anyway so it’s not worth listening to them. But one set of interests that can help distinguish the parties and may help us back a winner is that affecting the over 50s.
Only quite recently have the parties paid due attention to the fact that the highest percentage of people exercising their franchise comes from that age bracket. So you can expect regular references to ‘the elderly’ in forthcoming electioneering, as in ‘we will be very attentive to issues affecting the elderly’. But what are the issues to be most concerned with, and what are the actual policies of the main parties on those issues?
Tom Landers of the Federation of Active Retirement Associations puts insurance number one, in keeping with the number of members who draw attention to it, particularly in relation to advertisements suggesting that you can get insurance without a problem, but the truth being that it is only at a considerably increased premium or up to a certain age. The Federation is actively pursuing this matter themselves through the Equality Authority and directly with various insurance companies. However, none of the parties has strong views on this matter other than to ensure that insurance loadings would be transparent and be reduced across the board. There would be little or no political support for the idea of subsidising insurance companies so as to reduce the cost of insurance to particular groups.
On the matter of pensions, to be fair, says Landers, last year’s considerable jump was good but it was “from such a small base” that it was too easy to be given a lot of credit. The Federation is generally happy with current trends, provided they continue on that basis and that such increases are not just once off. For instance, the £500,000 set aside in the budget of December 2000 to promote sporting and recreational activities among older persons, was just a once off, yet this would be a hugely important area for older people and this sum will not go far. The decision to grant medical cards to people over 70 was a good move, but the question is why 70? Surely the theoretical retirement age of 65 is the most just cut-off age. The age limit in the Employment Equality Act 1998 is another area of concern and needs to be removed.
Predictably Fianna Fáil is very keen to draw attention to the fact that this government increased the old age pension from £78 to £116.01(€147.30) over the past five years, an increase of almost 50%. An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern TD told the 66th Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis recently that: “To secure the dignity and security of the elderly, we will continue to increase the pension again – and again – and again. For the future we will set a new minimum benchmark of €200 per week to make sure that all our older people have the support they deserve. This is the very least we will do.” The Taoiseach also pledged to introduce a “homemaker’s pension” at the full old-age non-contributory pension rate. “Already we have put aside,” he said, “over €7 Billion in the National Pensions Fund to meet the costs of pensions in the future. It is important that we use this fund only for what it was intended for – to secure and protect the pensions of future generations”.
Also of note is the fact that the government:
extended the eligibility for medical cards to all people over 70 years of age regardless of their income and household composition.
provided a total of £19.5 million for the Scheme of Community Grants for Older People which is designed to support initiatives to improve the security and social support for vulnerable older people.
delivered on their commitment to relax the criteria for Carers Allowance and to increase the value of the payment in real terms.
In terms of health care the National Development Plan 2000-2006 proposed to
provide a greatly improved physical environment to ensure a high quality of client-centred health care.
make available approximately €253 million for the capital development of services for older people over the period of the plan.
provide, replace and upgrade facilities, including assessment and rehabilitation, ambulatory care, community hospitals, community nursing homes, convalescent and respite beds, day-care centres and services for the elderly mentally infirm.
Michael Noonan’s angle on the performance of the current government is summed up in his recent statement that: “Despite 5 years of unprecedented prosperity, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have failed miserably to tackle the real problems facing the country.”
The 2001 Fine Gael policy document argued for a medical card for everyone over 65, a tax-free investment scheme for people who work after retirement, an easing of the means test for the carer’s allowance, and an extra £113 million in help with nursing home fees. This is to be financed out of “buoyancy in the economy”. “The Celtic Tiger was built on the backs of parents and grandparents,” Richard Bruton said at the time. Other suggestions were: a regular health check for older people, prioritising orthopaedic, cataract and heart bypass operations and “fast-tracking” of older people in emergency departments.
Richard Bruton’s new document Promoting an Active Independent and Caring Old Age argues that: “Services for older people in Ireland fall far short of an adequate standard. They are characterised by huge gaps, by queues and waiting lists, and by unaffordable costs.” New counteracting proposals include:
Persons who continue to work after their retirement age will be allowed invest tax free a certain amount each year in a security fund for later use
Support for security measures and social monitoring will be improved and the Community Welfare Officer will be given specific responsibility for its development
Financial pressures will be eased by raising the Non-Contributory Old Age Pension rate by £10.50 per week up to the contributory rate
The extension of free GP services to all persons aged 65 and over and the introduction of a regular health check for all persons of this age
Richard Bruton also told us about plans to introduce “a non-means tested, cost-of-care payment that would give people who are being cared for more control over the choices that are being made because they would have access to some money.”
The LABOUR PARTY
The Labour Party has a dedicated Spokesperson on Older People's Issues, Deputy Sean Ryan, TD. While the party is in the process of preparing a comprehensive policy document, he can say that Labour will put the rights of elderly people more firmly on the political agenda, referring in particular to the Ombudsman's Report into Nursing Home Subventions as a watershed in our understanding of care for the elderly in this country.
Deputy Ryan draws attention to the important role elderly people play in voluntary and community organisations and to the energy and commitment of retired people. “I wish to give a specific commitment that, if in Government after the next election, we will introduce a Social Guarantee for older people which will recognise the invaluable contribution made by older people throughout their working lives and beyond.” This will include legislating for the rights of older people so that a guarantee of dignity, comfort and support right across the board in old age can be made. The Labour Party will set up the mechanisms for older peoples’ involvement in decision-making, and a legal right to consultation will speed up this process. To show our commitment to this process we commit ourselves to supporting the objectives of organisations representing older people in their campaign to be acknowledged by the State as social partners.”
Other proposals include:
To delete the age limit in the Employment Equality Act, and generally working to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of age in every aspect of life.
To introduce a comprehensive rural public transport system in order to combat rural isolation particularly among the elderly, based on a new bus-taxi-hackney system.
Acknowledging the contribution made by Carers we propose to end the means test for Carers Allowance.
To ensure that Social Welfare pensions are at least 30% of the gross average industrial wage.
THE PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS
As members of the current government the PDs, with their “formula of low taxes and high incentives”, are proud of the fact that they were the party that first set the target of a £100 per week pension, and then exceeded that target. They are committed to further increases, and to the full pension for dependent spouses and pensions parity for retired public servants. Other deliveries on policy that they are proud to have met are:
· Employment Equality Act in force, prohibiting discrimination in the area of employment on nine grounds.
Equal Status Act that protects against discrimination outside the field of employment.
Equality Authority and the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations now open.
For further information you could contact the parties’ headquarters on the following numbers, or visit their websites at the following addresses:
Fianna Fáil (01) 6761551. www.fiannafail.ie
Fine Gael (01) 6198444. www.finegael.com
The Labour Party (01) 6612615. www.labour.ie
The Progressive Democrats (01) 6794399. www.progressivedemocrats.ie