Last week’s budget announcement from Minister Howlin and Noonan offers little comfort to people living alone in isolated rural areas especially the elderly. We seen very modest increases to the old age pension, fuel allowance and the 75% increase to the Christmas bonus but Irish Rural Link question the impact these measures will have on the most isolated in society. The allocation of funding for 600 new Gardaí recruits and surveillance operated is seen as some little comfort in the short term to people living in fear of roaming gangs but acknowledge it is a starting point. These 600 recruits are not additional support for An Garda Síochána instead they are compensating for the reduction in Garda numbers over the last five years. The latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show there was an 8.4pc increase in burglaries during the 12 months up to the end of June 2015. It is not just the rise in burglaries that is worrying but it is the increasingly violent nature of these criminal gangs that most fears rural residents.http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/releasespublications/documents/crimejustice/2015/recordedcrime_q12015.pdf). An Garda Síochána are working to their full capacity with the limited resources available to them and in the past week they have arrested a criminal gang in Limerick believed to be responsible for a series of robberies around the country. (http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/fifth-man-arrested-in-rural-crime-crackdown-31611490.html)
Research conducted by the Wheel earlier this year, showed that people prefer government invest in services rather than focusing on tax cuts. Looking at budget 2016, we can clearly see governments focused on tax cuts rather than restoration of services lost during the economic crisis. Glancing at the Health budget for example one can be forgiven for thinking the cuts since 2011 have been restored but under closer inspection, we can see the demands placed on these resources has significantly increased because of this it is unfair to compare. Meals on Wheels providers on average have seen their budget’s cut by 10% since 2011 while the demand for their services has risen due to our aging population. There is little belief that these cuts will be restored in this budget as the increase in the health budget will be focused on tackling other problems in the health services. Meals-on-wheels service is a critical component of the continuum of care services that enables older people to remain living in the community or to return to their own homes after hospitalisation. According to research there are between 12,000 and 15,000 people in receipt of meals on wheels in Ireland while 89% of staff are working in a voluntary capacity.
Research indicates that home based caring is the preferred option for many families as well as government as it is the most cost effective method. The enhanced allocation of resources to social services can provide benefits to the overall health system by reducing the number of beds needed in hospitals and care facilitates. At the beginning of October, Minister Ann Phelan launched the National Meals on Wheels Network under Irish Rural Link’s umbrella. In attendance was 100 year old Ann Byrne from Longford who is one of the oldest recipients of meals on wheels. While having a discussion with Anne and her family, the importance of the service became apparent, the service allows Anne’s family to feel secure in the knowledge that someone is checking in on Anne when they are unavailable.
Ireland has an aging population and government must be proactive in providing services to cater for these increased demands. Irish Rural Link and The Meals on Wheels Network are calling on government to invest in social services, allowing them to relieve some of the pressure on the health system.
* Survey of 266 charities conducted by The Wheel 1-12 May 2015.
** Extra spending on the health service, housing and homelessness rather than tax cuts is the priority for voters in the forthcoming budget, according to the latestIrish Times/Ipsos MRBI Poll (See. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/budget-2016-health-spending-is-priority-for-voters-1.2365158http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/budget-2016-health-spending-is-priority-for-voters-1.2365158)