Like many of the best ideas, Active Retirement Ireland’s (ARI) ethos is deceptively simple.
To involve older persons in meaningful activities and programmes and to ensure that they have access to those services, which will mean that ageing will be a happy and productive experience.
This is not just the right thing to do, say ARI and other concerned organisations.
It also makes sound financial sense, and will result in less expenditure on future health and associated welfare issues.
Older people surveyed say that one of their main concerns is that they will be able to age well and in their own homes. Not only is this a preferred option for most of us, it is considerably less expensive to support, compared to providing nursing home places and hospital care.
But such sensible policies mean indulging in a bit of long-term thinking of the kind that goes beyond figuring out how to satisfy the IMF on their next visit.
The Older and Bolder organisation has a campaign entitled "Make Home Work", which highlights the obstacles faced by older people and those with chronic illnesses or disabilities who want to live well at home, and who need support to do so.
It calls for older people to be recognised as active managers of their own health, while stressing the need for an adequate income, local transport and vibrant community activity to be recognised as vital contributors to health — and not, as is all too often the case, some sort of expendable luxuries.
Active Retirement Ireland is a network of over 500 local and community-based voluntary organisations with a membership of over 23,000 older people.
Founded in 1978, the organisation currently functions through eight regional councils. Its principal aim is to help retired men and women lead a happy and healthy life by offering them a wide range of creative and learning opportunities.
The kind of preventative programmes that the ARI and others promote, and which would reduce the projected costs associated with an ageing population, don’t unfortunately get much of a look-in.
I took the opportunity recently of talking with ARI’s Peter Kavanagh about this and other matters.
n What are your main concerns at the moment, Peter?
>> Well, as you know, there have been cuts in housing benefits, care homes, winter fuel allowances and, of course, the cost of many every day items has increased.
So all of this puts an added burden on people.
Yet, despite the rise in costs, the State pension hasn’t increased in the last four years. But to answer your question, I think that the threat of losing free travel is a big worry"
n With so much else at stake, why that particular issue?
>>Because it can affect so many areas of an older person’s life. Their ability to get to hospital appointments, or to socialise, get their shopping, visit family, lots of things. There’s a great rural transport system in operation in many parts of the country, and that has made a huge difference to people’s lives, stopped them from becoming isolated.
n What’s your background, Peter?
>> I was a teacher until three years ago, when I joined Active Retirement Ireland as their Information Networking and Communications Officer, and it’s a job I am passionate about.
n With such a dismal summer, I wonder is the reduction of six weeks in the winter fuel allowance worrying people?
>>Well, what we’re hearing from a lot of people is that they have needed their heating on in July this year.
Fuel poverty is certainly a major concern, particularly if we are going to have a bad winter. People who have insufficient heating can become less active and unwell and are often inclined to economise in other areas, such as cutting down on food.
n Why do you think it’s so difficult for those in authority to see the long-term costs of this sort of death-by-a-thousand-cuts policy?
>>I think people who might be earning €200,000 a year just don’t have any idea of what it really means to live on a State pension, or to be worried that you won’t be able to keep warm this winter. One of our 91-year-old members recently invited Minister Kathleen Lynch to spend a week with her, making do on a State pension. Of course, that didn’t happen!
n How difficult is it for you as a campaigning organisation to coordinate between the various relevant departments?
>>Very difficult at times and frustrating too. I think what we have is a broken system. For instance, a savings of €10 million by Social Protection might well end up eventually costing the HSE €20m. We need to look at these things more carefully, in a more integrated way.
n How concerned are you about the problem of rural isolation?
>>Many of our members are rural dwellers. And on the one hand, it’s a fact that rural communities are in general, very good about looking out for each other, organising activities, supporting those who live alone. Still, we are also aware that there are problems, Older men who are living alone, for instance, can become increasingly isolated.
n How would you respond to people who say that we can’t afford to be making special allowances for older people?
>> I think it’s important to point out that a lot of the changes we support, such as lowering kerbs, have benefits for many other members of the community — mothers with prams and the disabled, for example.
And some Government cuts run the risk of turning the generations against each other, whereas the truth is that ageing is something which is ultimately going to affect us all. It’s not a them and us situation and we should do everything we can to make Ireland the best country in the world to grow old in.