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Growing old in Ireland

Is Ireland A Great Place To Grow Old In?

Growing old in Ireland is a topic that makes the headlines almost daily. But we wanted to ask the question – is Ireland the best country to grow old in? We would love your feedback on this guest blog post from Peter Kavanagh, Advocacy and Communications Executive with Active Retirement Ireland.

Bluebird Care held a series of nationwide events to ask this question called An Engagement With Bluebird Care and the overwhelming response by older people and advocacy groups was that Ireland would be a great place if a number of key considerations were prioritised by Government.

What makes a country a great place to grow old?

There are a number of factors that contribute towards a country being a great place to grow old in.

The Global AgeWatch Index ranks 96 countries according to well-being in four key areas: income security, health status, opportunities for education or employment, and social connectedness.

Ireland’s position on that index may surprise you. We have slipped from 12th in 2013 to 15th last year, falling further behind the leading country, Switzerland. Countries performing best in the index have policies that support older people’s wellbeing and autonomy. Switzerland and the Nordic countries, for example, all have universal pensions, flexible employment opportunities, lifelong learning and effective healthcare.

Income security

In Ireland, our government is quick to remind us that they have protected the state pension. However, rising costs coupled with reductions in secondary income supports, such as telephone and fuel allowances and the introduction of a number of ‘stealth’ charges for property, tax and water, have hit older people hard.

Cuts to health budgets have disproportionately affected older people. In contrast to universal citizens’ pensions, Ireland’s pension system is biased in favour of people with uninterrupted careers. This disproportionately affects women, who are more likely to leave paid employment to care for children or sick relatives. In fact, the Gender Pension Gap stands at 35%.

The Irish Contributory State Pension, at its full rate of €233.30 per week, is a far higher sum than most other countries pay their older citizens. When making a straightforward comparison with, for example, Britain, the Irish pensioner appears to be coming out almost €100 per week better off.

When weighting for average earnings, cost of living and benefits in kind are taken into account, however, the Irish pensioner is less able to cope with emergencies and unexpected expenditure.

Health Status

Health status is a measure based on the three key areas of life expectancy at 60, healthy life expectancy at 60, and self-reported psychological wellbeing. Ireland’s averages in both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are solid if unspectacular, placing us in 20th place worldwide, far behind Japan. Where we really fall down, though, as a nation, is how we care for our oldest citizens.

The Irish model of care is fundamentally unchanged since the Poor Laws of 1838. Our entire system is geared toward residential long-term care, something only 4% of over 65s require.

The poorly-named Fair Deal is funded at the expense of home care packages and home help hours, meaning many older people who could age well at home are denied the opportunity to remain part of their communities.

Opportunities for education or employment

Ireland does not have a mandatory retirement age, so in theory older people can stay in work for as long as they would like.

In practice, however, employment contracts tend to finish at age 65 in the private sector, despite the State Pension kicking in only at 66. There is also no option but to take the State Pension at 66 years of age, adding potential taxation issues to continued employment.

Many people retire either because they are forced to by their employer, or because the increased tax burden makes carrying on in work an unattractive prospect.

Countries that score highly on the AgeWatch Index have more flexible approaches to retirement, such as winding down to part-time work or retraining in older age to take on less demanding roles. Ireland’s hard retirement age and lack of flexibility means retirement is forced on many people who are not prepared, and this can be quite stressful.

Educational opportunities for older people were among the first to be cut in the recession Ireland entered in 2008. Local Education and Training Boards were instructed to focus on youth unemployment and the long-term unemployed, and to make a particular effort to retrain those who were working in Ireland’s swollen construction industry before the global financial crash.

While all of these areas are vital to Ireland’s economic recovery, tighter public purses tend to neglect education’s valuable role in improving quality of life. Education for education’s sake, rather than just as a means to getting a job, is also vitally important.

Where once Active Retirement groups could access art classes, computer classes and foreign language lessons; now younger men and women fill classrooms hoping to learn practical skills. The delicate balance that treasured lifelong learning is broken.

Social Connectedness

This is measured by access to public transport, physical safety, social connections and civic freedom.

Ireland scores very highly on civic freedom and social connections. Older people are valued within their communities for the volunteer work they do. In most Irish towns and villages, older people are the glue that holds together the fabric of society. Just look at your local Tidy Towns, GAA Club, Tennis Club, Residents’ Association, or any other community group.

Older people volunteer. It’s what we tend to do in retirement. Older people are also more civically engaged than other age cohorts. They vote in greater numbers and are quite passionate about the issues that affect them, their families and their communities.

Despite communities relying on older people for so much, it is becoming more difficult for these wonderful people to remain at home as they age. While Ireland is a world leader in giving free travel to over-66s, a lack of rural transport links mean that many older people outside of major towns and cities are forced to maintain a car.

With increasing insurance premiums, this is a major cost for those still in employment, let alone the retired.

Physical safety is also a major issue for older people in rural areas. While the number of reported crimes has not risen, a lack of a visible Garda presence and the closure of smaller stations have left many older people feeling unsafe in their own homes. When crime does strike close to home, it can rock entire communities of older people, left feeling abandoned as younger relatives have had to migrate to cities here and abroad in search of work.

Cause for optimism?

All that said, the situation in Ireland is not dire. Irish older people are far from the most poorly treated in the world, and those who are socially active are far happier and healthier than those who are not. What the country needs is to make sure that we enable older people to age in place, and remain as part of their communities as they grow older.

Organisations like Active Retirement Ireland and companies like Bluebird Care strive to reach the stage where we can truly say that Ireland is a great place for all its citizens, and a great place to grow older in.

2014 Irish Pensioners Handbook Coming Soon

Pre-Order your FREE Copy Now

The final edits are currently being made to the 2014 Irish Pensioners Handbook which is produced by Bluebird Care in association with Guerin Media.

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Minister Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State, Department of Health and Department of Justice, Equality and Defence with responsibility for Disability, Older People, Equality and Mental Health for says, “The Handbook provides essential information on Older People’s organisations, allowances and entitlements, health and fitness, holidays and travel, information on home care, nursing homes and legal advice. It also contains a very useful directory which is broken down by region for ease of access.

“I am delighted to be able to say that the National Positive Ageing Strategy was published in April 2013. This Strategy seeks to ensure that older people are recognised, supported and enabled to lead full and independent lives. It outlines Ireland’s vision for ageing and older people and the national goals and objectives required to promote positive ageing. It will be the blueprint for age related policy and service delivery across Government in the years ahead.”

Eddie O’Toole, Operations Director with Bluebird Care says, “Part of our commitment to older people is to share information and advice on issues of interest to you, and so we are delighted to be part of this publication, the sixth annual Irish Pensioner’s Handbook. We value care in the same way we understand the premise, ‘Some day I will have to ask for help. Maybe not today, but some day’.”

The publication is FREE and contains valuable information on a range of topics including:

  • A-Z of Useful Contacts
  • Older People’s Organisations
  • Home Care
  • Holidays & Travel
  • Health & Fitness
  • Financial Advice
  • Legal Advice
  • Bereavement
  • Nutrition & Diet

 

It will be available from your local Bluebird Care office soon. You can pre-order your free copy now by contacting your local Bluebird Care office. Click here to view the office nearest you.

Kilkenny Audience Engaged on Topic of Growing Old

“We need to be more optimistic and upbeat about our role in society, because we have so much to give.” So said one of the attendees at the final “An EngAGEment with Bluebird Care” event which took place in Kilkenny.

The Lyrath Estate Hotel saw 150 guests join four panels of guests to discuss home security, homecare and healthcare, the impact of austerity on older people and participation of older people in society.

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Broadcaster George Hook chaired all five events in Dublin, Galway, Sligo, Cork and Kilkenny and was moved by what he heard from the over 700 people who attended.

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Writing in the Sunday Independent George Hook described the impact the ‘EngAGEment’ series had on him. He revealed that audiences’ anguish over continued austerity led him to believe that, “Sharing the cost of our ageing population is already dividing the nation.”

Read George Hook’s full article in the Sunday Independent here.

Sunday Independent November 17 2013

Watch our highlights video at the link below

Highlights of An EngAGEment with Bluebird Care

200 people participate in An EngAGEment with Bluebird Care in Cork

 

Almost 200 people joined Broadcaster George Hook and Bluebird Care to discuss Ireland’s ageing society last night in the Radisson Blu Hotel Cork.

The event, which is part of a nationwide series featuring a panel of experts, a live audience and George Hook, saw a range of heated questions and statements being made from audience members.

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The issues debated included healthcare provision, Budget 2014, homecare, home security and social isolation.

Speakers included Sgt. Tony Davis, Prof Cillian Twomey, Senator Deirdre Clune, Robin Webster, Age Action, Sean Moynihan Alone and Peter Kavanagh Active Retirement Ireland, Don O’Riordan, Director Bluebird Care Cork and Susie Hall, Alliance of Retired Public Service Associations.

Operations Director with Bluebird Care Eddie O’Toole says they have now had over 500 people engage on issues affecting older people in modern Ireland.  “There is a lot of frustration and anxiety out there among older people who feel their voice is not being heard by Government, state agencies and decision makers. These events offer a platform for older people to share their views and opinions with up to 10 panel members from a range of experts and organisations contributing. They have proven hugely popular and so it’s something we will continue to roll out in 2014.”

The final “An EngAGEment with Bluebird Care” event takes place on Tuesday 12th November in the Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny. To reserve your FREE place email brianegan@localhost/bluebird.