Over 60 per cent of pensioners are in the bottom half of income distribution nationally, Age Action Ireland's head of advocacy and communications Eamon Timmins has told a gathering of former TDs and Senators.
“Part of the problem is the level of dependence on the State pension,’’ he said. “It condemns people to living the last third of their lives on an income just above the poverty line.’’
Mr Timmins said efforts to encourage workers to make private pension provision, to supplement their State pension, had not been successful.
“As the economy picks up, urgent attention needs to be given to this area, whether through the introduction of auto enrolment pension schemes or other government-sponsored savings schemes,’’ he added.
Addressing the Irish Association of Former Parliamentarians, who met in the Seanad chamber in Leinster House to discuss ageing problems, he said the only changes introduced by successive governments had been the abolition of the State pension transition.
It was proposed to move the eligibility age for the pension to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028.
Mr Timmins said the current hospital crisis highlighted the need to address the health needs of older people. His agency, as a national charity for older people, believed a major State challenge was the provision of health and social care supports for them in their communities.
“We do not believe that is happening at the moment,’’ he added. “The imbalance is highlighted by the fact that €1 billion is currently being spent on long-term care for older people, compared to about €400 million for community care.’’
Dr Diarmuid O'Shea, consultant geriatrician, St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, said it was predicted Ireland's population would increase from 4.2 million people to 5.1 million in the next 10 years.
A continued emphasis on health care promotion and prevention was paramount in planning effectively for this, he added.
“The knowledge we are living longer challenges us to ensure that these years gained are healthy years,’’ said Dr O’Shea.
“We need to work into our daily lives attitudes and behaviours that maximise our health and delay the onset of disabling illness.’’
He warned the “worrying rates of childhood obesity will impact on the life expectancy for some and quality of life for others in the years ahead’’.
Dr Keith Swanick, a GP in Belmullet, Co Mayo, and secretary of the National Association of Irish General Practitioners, called for the redirection of funding back to primary care.
“What has happened in GP care over the past seven years has been heartbreaking,’’ he said.
“With the institutions of State crumbling before our eyes, the one cocooned and protected space, where doctor and patient could speak freely and openly in their own time, has also been severely compromised and, ironically, at a time when it was most needed.’’
Dr Swanick said throwing money at the hospital sector was not the answer to the problems in the health services. He believed, he added, cuts in GP-funding had destabilised the fabric of medicine in the country.