Ireland's changing demographics must be taken account of in Budget 2020

Posted on Friday, 26 July 2019

Social Justice Ireland is seriously concerned that Government is not planning sufficiently for the changes that Ireland’s ageing population will bring. Over the coming decades there will be a steady increase in older people and people with disabilities accessing services. While a large proportion of older people own their home debt free, an increasing number of those aged 65+ have a mortgage, are living in private rented accommodation, or are accessing emergency homeless accommodation. 

According to Eurostat, 11.1% of Ireland’s population aged 65+ are living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor, and that’s before accounting for illness or disability which requires further home adaptations. That amounts to 44,000 older people. Research by TILDA puts the rate of people aged 50+ living in substandard accommodation at 57.8%, with the most prevalent housing condition issues relating to damp, mould or moisture. 

The expenditure in respect of the Housing Aid for Older People plummeted from €30.8m in 2010 to just €13.9m in 2018, while Housing Aid for People with a Disability reduced from €39.8m to €29.7m in the same period. The number of grants across both schemes fell from 11,552 in 2010 to 7,262 in 2018. Social Justice Ireland therefore proposes an increase of €85m for Housing Aid for Older People and Housing Aid for People with a Disability, as well as the increases to the Living Alone Allowance and Fuel Allowance discussed on page 9. 

Being well at home is also about the availability of care supports appropriate to the needs of older people. The Government has committed to the introduction of a statutory right to home care in 2021, and debates are ongoing as to what that should entail. Social Justice Ireland believes that ultimately it should allow for choice on the part of the care recipient from a ‘basket of goods’ that ranges from healthcare to home care, personal care to social inclusion. In the meantime, an increase in the current provision of home support packages to older people is urgently required. The estimated increase in demand for home care across all ages is expected to be 65.6% between 2016 and 2031. The average number of hours provided by the HSE per older care recipient for the first nine months of 2018 was just over 6 hours per week. In addition, the number  of older people waiting on funding for home support in September 2018 was 6,423. Social Justice Ireland therefore proposes a €100m package which would eliminate the current waiting list for Home Support packages and provide an additional 2 million hours in 2020.

The Community and Voluntary sector provide a range of key supports for older people, from befriending and social inclusion supports, to home care and assistive technologies. These supports are particularly important for those older people living with dementia and their families. Social Justice Ireland therefore proposes the expansion of these community supports and voluntary programmes at a cost of €30m.

The objective of a pension system is to provide citizens and residents with an income that removes them from the risk of poverty in old age, yet the Irish pension system is characterised by incomplete coverage and a generous system of tax reliefs that disproportionately benefit the better off in society. (More than 70 per cent of pension tax reliefs accrue to individuals in the top income quintile).

Social Justice Ireland proposes a single-rate universal state social welfare pension from January 2020 at the rate of €257.30. The significant additional expenditure required could be funded through reform of Ireland’s system of pension-related tax reliefs, as detailed in our report on the Universal Pension from March 2018, including standard-rating the tax break on all private pension contributions, including the public sector levy.