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VOICES

Analysis Older people are vulnerable to poverty - more should have been done for them

Mary Murphy of Age Action says there are some positives in the budget but the government could have gone further.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 10th 2023, 11:45 PM

AS THE DETAILS of Budget 2024 are revealed today, Age Action knows that many older people will be relieved to see that the state pension has been increased by more than a fiver. However, a €12 per week increase does not replace all the lost spending power on the pension from the steep inflation we have seen since 2020.

The core rate of the pension would need to be increased by a further €19, on top of the €12, to have the same spending power it had in 2020.

The lived experience of many older people is captured by one of our survey respondents saying, “we can’t live on what we’re getting from the government. Our pensions aren’t enough to cover anything and stuff keeps going up and up and up on us, we’re going to be hungry.”

Vulnerable

Effectively, our older population are worse off than they were in 2020. This has manifested as a sharp increase in the number of older persons at risk of poverty, which has doubled since 2020. In the same period, consistent poverty among older persons has tripled.

Age Action is particularly concerned about older people living alone. One in three older people living alone is at risk of poverty, nearly two-thirds more than in 2020, so it is a real concern that no increase to the Living Alone supplement was announced.

There will be a once-off payment of €200 for older people living alone, but when that money is used up, the weekly income of many people living alone will once again be inadequate to meet their basic needs.

As older persons living alone have told us, you don’t get to turn on half a light bulb or half a radiator.

The Government framed this budget as helping those most disadvantaged by the cost of living crisis, but older persons living alone should have been targeted as a group most in need. This is not just an issue of income adequacy but gender equality. When older people who live alone fall behind, it means older women fall behind, as two-thirds of older persons living alone are women.

Seven in 10 older persons rely on social protection for more than half their income, including three in ten who get 90% or more of their income from social protection. The state pension is meant to be the ‘bedrock’ of income in older age, but its spending power has been eroded since 2020, which increases uncertainty.

A winter of worry

Age Action hears from many older people who experience intense anxiety around the budget as they wait to hear what will happen to their income, which has been turned into a political football.

Ireland is the only Eurozone country that does not benchmark its state pension to inflation or wages.

The government should fulfil its longstanding promise to benchmark the state pension at 34% of average earnings. Age Action is part of the Pension Promise campaign which asks for just this and which has received political and public support across the country. Benchmarking the state pension to guarantee it kept pace with the rest of society in an evidence-based manner would be a source of comfort and security for many older people, who want the politics taken out of their pensions. As one older person asked us recently, “If they are talking about a ‘living wage’ what about a living pension?”

We at Age Action do welcome the creation of the Future Ireland Fund, which will use windfall corporate tax receipts to cover age-related costs that we know are coming in the areas of healthcare, pensions, home care and more. Currently, Ireland spends low amounts on old-age social protection relative to other European countries.

The funding of our pension system into the future has been a source of concern, but also undue and sometimes ageist fear-mongering. We hope this fund represents a government commitment to planning for demographic change and supporting all of us to age well. The establishment of this Fund also aligns with Age Action’s ask for the establishment of a Commissioner on Ageing and Older Persons, as no state body, position, or office currently has a specific remit in this area. Older persons strongly support the idea of a Commissioner, as they often feel invisible to the state, overlooked in policy decisions and frustrated by the lack of support available to navigate bureaucratic systems. A Commissioner would make sure that Irish policies and services are responsive to our dynamic society and adequate for the growing number and diversity of older persons.

Mary Murphy is a research officer with Age Action.

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