Ageing with security, opportunity and dignity

Life expectancy is increasing. Yet rather than this being a cause for celebration, it is generally presented as a problem for government and society. Fine Gael believes that this is an opportunity that must be embraced with the emphasis towards the positive rather than the challenges. However for those positives to be realised, people must have confidence that as they age and enter retirement, they will be able to do so with security, opportunity and dignity.

Our ambition is that:

  • people enjoy a financially secure retirement;
  • as people grow older they are secure in the knowledge that assistance and services are available to help them stay in their home independently and they enjoy real choice in the housing and care options;
  • there is easier access to further education or training, more flexible models of education that assist older learners when they wish to continue to work and reskill;
  • those who want to work later in life, are enabled to do so;
  • increased promotion of healthy and active lifestyles as a person ages to help prevent illness and costly treatments; and
  • community supports are available and accessible to those experiencing loneliness and isolation.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

Pension reform to allow everyone security in retirement

Improvement in life expectancy, and an increasing time spent in retirement means we must ensure that people do not lose out in retirement and instead are enabled to adequately replace their pre-retirement income levels.

Older men and women make a remarkable contribution to Irish society and this should be recognised with sufficient increases to both the contributory and non-contributory state pensions.

We will move to a total contributions approach for State Pension (Contributory) for the newly-retired by 2020. This will specifically acknowledge and allow for time spent caring, whether for our children or elderly loved ones. In tandem with that, we will work to resolve the various anomalies identified in the current provision of the contributory pensions.

As pensioners generally have fixed incomes, and can expect 20 or more years when they may be at least partially reliant on the State Pension, any uncertainty about future rates can cause anxiety, particularly among pensioners with no other source of income. We will ensure that the State Pension increases at or above the rate of inflation. Nobody should fear poverty in retirement.

Bringing in auto-enrolment to help all workers plan for retirement

Currently only 35% of people in the private sector pay into an occupational pension. This means that 65% do not, and are therefore entirely reliant on the State Pension. We want to help these people save and prepare for their pension years in good time, so that they are well prepared to enjoy their retirement. Fine Gael in government brought forward the ‘Roadmap for Pension Reform’ and we are committed to its implementation.

We will introduce auto-enrolment into pension schemes for all workers under the age of 60 who are not already in a pension scheme. Contributions will be made by employees, employers and topped up by the Exchequer. This will achieve universal pension coverage and act as a major bulwark against pensioner poverty. There will be an opt-out for employees and an opt-in option for the self-employed, homemakers, carers and others. This will be in place by 2022.

In doing this, we will ensure that Ireland has the most effective, deliverable and sustainable automatic enrolment model resulting in an increase to the wellbeing, financial security and independence of future retirees.

Better integration to help older people with chronic conditions navigate the health service

Treating chronic illnesses in the community through increased primary and social care capacity will ensure awareness, earlier diagnosis, intervention and treatment, better outcomes for patients and less pressure on our acute hospitals. It underpins Fine Gael’s approach to healthcare reform.

As we age, we are more likely to develop chronic conditions that require us to regularly interact with the health service. Frequently, we will have more than one such condition and if our care is not well managed, we risk avoidable admission to hospital, resulting stress and bad health. Therefore, as part of Sláintecare, a dedicated fund will be in place to implement integrated care programmes focused on older people with chronic conditions.

Placing home care on a statutory footing

Fine Gael believes that people should be helped to live as long as possible in their home and in their community. Fine Gael in government is developing proposals for the establishment of home care on a statutory footing so that people who require long-term care at home have the option of receiving it and are entitled to it by law similar to the entitlement of long term residential care under the Nursing Home Support Scheme that currently exists. These proposals are being informed by widespread public consultation. It will help to improve access to the home care services that people need in an affordable and sustainable way. The system of regulation for home care will help to ensure that the public can be confident that the services provided are of a high standard.

As this scheme is being developed, Fine Gael will ensure that the existing home care services are streamlined with duplication removed making it easier for people to understand what they can avail of and how.

Future of the Fair Deal Scheme

Currently the capital value of an individual’s principal private residence is included in the financial assessment for the first three years of their time in care. This is known as the three year cap.

Under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, contributions based on the capital value of farms and businesses are not generally capped at three years. Fine Gael is amending the scheme to apply the three year cap to farm or business assets. This measure is to ensure family succession can be effected where previously succession planning may not have been an option.

Housing choice in older age

The housing requirements of people change through their life cycle. The housing requirements of an older couple, or an older person living alone, are usually different to when they were younger. While access to home care packages will allow people to remain in their homes for longer, in many instances their home is unsuitable for their changed needs and while they would like to remain in their community, there is no appropriate alternative accommodation. We will ensure that the approach to planning changes so that there is a good mix of accommodation, for people of all ages, in communities across our country. Under Fine Gael in government the Department of Health and the Department of Housing are working together for the first time ever to develop joint policy options for older persons. This new approach will ensure that health and social care options will form an integral part of developing new housing options with services attached to the developments.

Reducing the costs faced by older people

In Budget 2019, Fine Gael reduced the prescription charge for medical card holders over the age of 70 from €2 per item to €1.50 per item. We will seek to lower these costs further in the years ahead.

Under the Drugs Payment Scheme, the maximum a household pays in a month for approved prescribed drugs, medicines and certain appliances is €134. We will seek to reduce the maximum a household pays further in the years ahead.

Enabling those who want to work later in life, to do so

More and more older people wish to stay within the workforce for longer. With their wealth of experience, coupled with a tightening workforce, they have a significant and valuable contribution to make. However, while the legal barriers to post-retirement age working are being removed, there are still issues surrounding stereotyping and confidence. As part of the Future Jobs Programme, Fine Gael will ensure that more older people who want to continue to stay in the workforce are enabled to do so.

There are also older people who, while not wanting to remain in the workforce, have significant skills that they wish to contribute to society and in particular to their local communities. This could be as mentors or serving on the boards of community organisations. Fine Gael will ensure that this is a significant plank of the forthcoming National Strategy for Volunteering.