As an older mother, and, as of last week, someone who is nearer to fifty than forty, I now also have an older mother and I feel compelled to comment on this.
Let me tell you why.This week, my elderly mother, without any warning, received a letter from the HSE (Health Service Executive) stating that her home help/domestic care service is being cut. Not reduced, not suspended, but totally cut. There is no more government funding for it, apparently.
Before she was hospitalised for the first time, she had home help for only one hour a week. This was eventually increased to two, on doctor's recommendation. Now, when she needs it most, when she is sick and living alone, it has been taken away altogether.
Some would say, well why should she have 'free' domestic help anyway? I say, it is not 'free'. Donations are given voluntarily on a yearly basis from the person receiving the help or from their families. She, my father, and many others who face this situation now, worked all their lives for everything they ever got. I say, it is not free, because she created five children who have also worked all their lives, contributed to society and done their best not to cause trouble for anyone else. I say she deserves it, because she deserves to be respected and cared for in her twilight years. When her sons and daughter and their families are facing cutbacks, job losses, negative equity, higher taxes, extra charges, extortionate childcare costs, she should feel secure about whatever years that she has left.
She has been hospitalised on many occasions with her conditions, COPD and chronic asthma. She acquired these conditions through no fault of her own. She is on a nebuliser 8 times a day and requires regular antibiotics and steroids. Her conditions are a hereditary, genetic thing, mostly connected with age. She also has osteo-arthritis, a knee replacement and 50% blockage in her heart. She receives B12 injections each month for the rest of her life. For these reasons she has been in receipt of this home care package, provided by the HSE (Health Service Executive) for the past few years. She is unable to do housework as even such small things as dusting could set an attack off. Having a home carer, even for a few hours was a great help to her and to us, her family. My mother is lucky to have five children, all still living in this country who can help her when she really needs it. It is not always possible, as they all have young families and do not live in the immediate vicinity. The ridiculous rise in property prices, especially in Dublin, during The so called Celtic Tiger pushed them all out of their home county.
It's not just herself that my mother is worried about. She was a Home Carer herself in her younger days before she had to leave to look after my sick father. She relied on the money that it brought into our household, paltry as the sum was at the time. She is upset that some of the home carers may lose their livelihoods or have even more pay cuts. She remembers how it was for her in those very comparable times.
Think also of all the people who are older and sicker than my mother who have no-one to turn to for comfort. Can you imagine their confusion and anxiety when they received this letter in the post without any inkling beforehand? Some of these people don't have family near to hand or any family at all. They rely on their home carer to do housework, buy in groceries and they could be one of the few people they see all week.
I understand that there is an economic crisis. I understand that the country is in financial trouble. I understand that we have to face up to certain austerity measures but I wish the government would LEAVE OLD PEOPLE alone! Many of the wrong people have been getting many of the benefits in this country for many, many years. While I know that much of this is being dealt with now, I feel that it's not fair to now clamp down on the most vulnerable in our society. Old and sick people DO NOT deserve this worry after years of working and caring for the younger generation.
I am a person who usually doesn't get riled up about trivial things. Even the austerity measures and cutbacks that we are all facing I meet with a certain amount of acceptance. However, I am incensed about this because OLD PEOPLE have done their work and in some cases still are. They act as grandparents, advice givers and sometimes as guarantors. I was relieved that old peoples pensions were not cut but then found that they are taking the money from old people in many other ways. There are now household charges, prescription charges (even with long term illness and medical cards) and I have heard a rumour they now want to meddle with the free travel!
Only old people who need to be washed, helped in and out of bed and have their personal care/needs attended to will receive home help now. It seems that families, neighbours and friends are expected to do their housework, shopping etc. That is fine and people do what they can, but what about those who don't have families that care about them? What about those whose children live abroad? What about old people who don't have good neighbours and friends?
I saw recently, in the news that an elderly man was dead in his home for three months before anyone noticed. For old and sick people who are alone in this world, the home carer maybe all that stands between them being found like this some day.
I hope to see something in the media about it soon. It hasn't been mentioned so far and has happened without warning. I hope to hear people questioning the move as they did with the medical card issue for the elderly in the past. I know I have a personal interest in that it affects my mother. But surely it will affect the parents, relatives and friends of many others out there too.
How do YOU feel about this?