November 27, 2009

IRELAND: 'Feeling the Pinch' reports how elderly struggle in recession

. DUBLIN, Ireland / The Irish Times / Society / November 27, 2009 By Alison Healey OLDER PEOPLE are trying to save money by watering down milk, heating one room in the house and only using the car for emergencies, a new report has found. Feeling the Pinch was commissioned by the Older and Bolder alliance to identify how older people were coping with the recession. Elizabeth Costello, who co-authored the report with Stephen O’Hare, said the report’s 18 case studies put a human face on the recession. She highlighted the case of Bridie (85), a widow who lives in the southeast. She said she watered down milk because it was 30 cent dearer in the village shop and she could not travel to discount chains. Barbara (67) told the researchers she no longer bought clothes. “New clothing was regarded as a luxury that had long been discarded,” the report stated. Barbara said her bin did not go out every week, or even every month, as she could not afford it. “I’ve some stickers left over from last year. That’s how economical I would be,” she said. Diane (80) told how her Christmas social welfare bonus had paid for the Christmas presents and the Christmas dinner. Like many of the people interviewed, she was worried about future cuts in supports. Emily (65) said she was not entitled to chiropody services and could not afford special support shoes. “I was inclined to go over on that leg so that keeps me banjaxed . . . but they were €130 so I couldn’t afford them,” she told the researchers. Elderly Dublin Couple. File photo: Tommy Clancy / The Irish Times Mr O’Hare said older people were certainly feeling the pinch of the recession and he highlighted issues such as the withdrawal of the medical card for all over 70s, the increase in medical care costs and the loss of the Christmas bonus. However, he stressed that the older people interviewed were very strong and had weathered three or four previous recessions. The sense of stoicism displayed was more evident than the fear, he said. This was echoed by Prof Eamon O’Shea of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology. He said it was a mistake to see all older people as being vulnerable, as many were resilient and could offer hope to younger people. Mr O’Hare also highlighted the hunger for information from older people and said putting information on websites was of no use to many of them. Older and Bolder director Patricia Conboy said a cut in the State pension and other supports would be “a cruel blow” to older people who were already living frugally and who would not be able to cope with unexpected expenses. “Older people are getting by on fixed-pension incomes through a combination of tight budgeting, individual coping strategies and a stoic determination to make do,” she said. “Some are tenaciously holding on to ‘big ticket items’ such as private health insurance, car ownership, help with home and garden maintenance, but they are stretched to the limit to do this and worried that they will not be able to sustain the costs in the future.” The report cautions against cutting State contributory and non-contributory pension entitlements and says the Christmas bonus should be reinstated for older people.[rc] © 2009