By Keith Micallef
Thousands of people aged 80 and over, in the past days started receiving the €300 allowance announced in this year’s budget. Others who will be 80 in due course will receive a pro-rata allowance later during the year. The allowance is estimated to cost the government around €3.5 million a year and over 12,000 people will benefit.
During a visit to the Sliema day centre, Minister for Justice, Dialogue and Family Chris Said and Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly Mario Galea stressed that the government is committed to support the elderly and is sensitive towards their needs. They both emphasised that this year’s increase in the budget allocation for this sector is further proof of this.
Dr Said said that this benefit is being distributed to all elderly people aged 80 years and over, irrespective of their income. He explained that compared to 2008, when pensioners started to benefit from the full cost of living allowance instead of two-thirds as it was up to then, pensions increased by an annual €1,000 in total. It is estimated that the government spends €2.5 million daily on social benefits.
Mr Galea listed several measures being taken by the government which include the removal of VAT on home help and private nursing for the elderly and a daily investment of €180,000 on eight residential homes. Meanwhile, work is well under way on a €10 million refurbishment project to convert part of Karin Grech Hospital into a rehabilitation centre for old people, who cannot be kept for long stretches at Mater Dei once their condition starts improving.
On this particular issue, Mr Galea said that in the first three months of this year around 600 patients were transferred from Mater Dei to various residential homes around the island, to free up as many beds as possible. Last year, the total figure of transferred patients stood at 1,367.
The government was also looking to address the shortage of beds in state-run residential homes by paying for beds in privately-owned homes. From a modest 34 beds four years ago, this year the government will be paying for 385 beds in private homes, to ease the problem.
The Parliamentary Secretary also announced that a new night shelter will open in St Vincent De Paul in two months’ time, while a new day centre in Kirkop due to open shortly will raise the total number of day centres on the island to 19.
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