Poverty in Ireland-The old
. Some 113,000 old people in Ireland may be classified as poor.
. The non-contributory old-age pension is £3 IOs. Od. per week.
. The Dublin Health Authority has stated that at present day rates old people need £4 Os. Od. per week to live (not including rent).
. A quarter of mental hospital patients are old people.
. Some 31% of old people in the West live alone.
THE PERCENTAGE of old people in Ireland-ll'2%-is approximately the same as anywhere in Europe. However, they do form part of the extremely large non-productive population that Ireland possesses. Large families, fewer working wives, high emigration and an increased proportion of old people continue to produce a worker-dependent ratio of 100 : 73. It is possibly this feature that helps explain the massive neglect that old people still have to suffer. Altogether, there are about 330,000 old people in Ireland. Their numbers can expect to increase by 15% over the next 12 years, while the general population should expand by 18%.
The problems of the old, of course, are not solely the consequence of lack of money. Loneliness, illness, boredom, physical or mental incapacity; all form part of their troubles. That these factors would exist independently of suitable financial assistance is undeniable: their harshness, however, is greatly exacerbated by the sheer mass of deprivation that the majority of old people in this country have to tolerate.
The pension scheme is peculiarly barbarous. Firstly, it only operates for the 70-years-olds and up. This is the highest pensionable age in Europe, equalled only by Norway, and the hardships it entails for the man who retires at 65 is difficult to envisage. The five years of direst poverty it makes possible may receive alleviation from a variety of sources, state and charitable, but the implicit notion that the retired man of less than 70 quite rightly should have to seek help to stave off starvation is a remarkable one indeed. The pensions, when they may be claimed, are divided into the contributory and non-contributory categories. The former is worth £4 2s. 6d. per week, with £3 IOs. extra for a wife or a dependent invalid. If there are any qualified children, there is an additional 15s. 6d. a head. If the recipient is in need of permanent nursing and this is provided by one of his family who would otherwise be working, there is a further 55s. awarded.
The non-contributory pension is, unlike the contributory, subject to a means test. It is worth £3 15s. Od. with 12s. 6d. for each dependent child. A person earning £260 15s. Od. is not entitled to a pension, nor is any noncontributory pensioner entitled to any award for his wife. A situation of a peculiarly vicious nature here exists, for a man who is on such a pension, with a wife under seventy (and therefore not entitled to a pension in her own right) finds he must support the two of them on £3 15s. Od. a week. Quite obviously, he cannot.
The government response to the condition of old people is quite patently inadequate. There has been a tradition of indifference mingled with horror if anyone suggested that the old people were starving to death. Sean McEntee, Minister for Health a few years ago, dismissed verdicts on people "who died of cold and prolonged malnutrition" as merely sensational. That between 70 and 90 old people are found dead each year in Dublin without nursing assistance or any medical care, does indicate that the situation in human terms has not improved significantly. The tremendous rate of senile dementia in this country-7'O persons per thousand (cf. Denmark, 2'15 per 1,000), which helps provide some of the 25'7% of patients in our mental hospitals, who are over 65, again is merely an indicator of governmental, and indeed, familial disregard for the old.
Old people living alone
The concentration of old people in certain areas again is a considerable problem. In the western counties, the high rate of emigration of the young has left a very large proportion of old people often living alone. 14% of all men, 15% of women, are over 65 in rural districts in the 8 counties of Connacht and Ulster (Republic). In these counties the proportion of single males is again very high: some 32 % (cf. 16% in Dublin). So for the west, at least, we can say that there are very large numbers of men over 65 who are living alone. Not until they are seventy do they receive a pension, although they can obtain assistance from elsewhere. The general decline that characterises this area is borne out by a similar decline in financial terms.
For example, Home Assistance, a system of benefits distributed at the discretion of local authority officers, as Seamus 6 Cinneide has pointed out, tend to be a function of the amount of rates being drawn in an area (it is paid only out of local authority funds). In Donegal, where the need is quite obviously high, the amount spent on Home Assistance was less that the amount spend by Vincent de Paul in the same county. Therefore, where the need is greatest, relief is correspondingly lower.
In Dublin, the position is different. There are, as has been pointed out elsewhere, 208 women over 75 and 154 between 65-74 for every 100 men in the same age groups. Three-quarters of women over 65 are either single or widowed and around 17% live alone. Each successive year produces a greater percentage of women: for each year over 85, the female population is reduced by a quarter, the male by a third. In Ireland overall, some 10% of women live alone. In Kildare, the proportion of old people which at the turn of the century was 1 in 21 is now 1 in 10.
The fact that old people are living alone does not inevitably indicate an un chosen isolation. Indeed, the pattern that seems to emerge is that the greater prosperity, the more old people opt for independence. The qualification must be made for Ireland that large decaying areas are similarly symptomised by a high percentage of single old people, whose lack of prosperity is very much in evidence. Furthermore, the high rate of disability amongst the old in this country (some 10% of the over 65s are in institutions-2~ % in mental hospitals, 4% in county homes) does introduce another serious factor into the situation.
For this large number of potentially deprived individuals and groups of individuals are certain concessions which would reduce somewhat the burden of existence. There is a limited amount of free electricity, free radio and television allowances, free travel and free fuel. However, these, apart from the free fuel, are merely peripheral benefits that would not substantially alter the material condition of someone undergoing the kind of hardships not difficult to envisage within the present pensions system. Professor Kaim Caudle estimates that 87% of people over 70 receive pensions, the other 13% either not applying for one or having a yearly income of over £195 15s. Od. Of these, some would have a public service pension or a British pension. There are some 15,000 old people in this country in receipt of British old age pensions, which are worth £8'2 for a married couple and £5'2 for an individual. A comparison of Northern Ireland and the South reveals that the gap between pensions provided by either government has been diminishing. Nevertheless, Northerners receive a rate of assistance considerably higher than pensioners here.
However, an important factor-not here considered, is that pensions begin much earlier in the North than they do here. For a man, it is 65; for a woman, 60. Here, either must be 70 before a pension may be granted. Furthermore, as Professor Kaim Caudle pointed out in Administration this summer, Northerners may also receive employees' graduated pensions, a supplement if they retire late, or a supplementary benefit subject to a means test. No such benefits exist here.
For the 65 to 70's Kaim Caudle claims that around 50% covered by social insurance are in receipt of disability or unemployment benefits. Similarly, some 30% of the women of this age group receive widows pensions. For those who are left, there is voluntary assistance and Home Assistance and pretty inevitable want. The purchasing power of the noncontributory pension increased 63% between 1963 and 1968 and 31 % for the contributory. In fact, the standard of living for old people has increased faster than that of industrial workers. While there has been an increase for them of 54%, the improvement of the pensioners' circumstances may be seen from the following table:
However, lest there be too much governmental jubilation at the achievement of giving old people pensions of £3 5s. Od and £3 3s. 6d, an analysis of food costing done by Seamus 6 Cinneide reveals some deflating facts. On a principle used by Professor Kaim Caudle, he estimated that a person over 60 would require 1,800 calories a day, costing, in circumstances of absolute efficiency, 21s. lOd. a week in September, 1966.
This is then raised by 50% to allow for spillage, insufficient matsication, bad buying or poor cooking, which produces a figure of 33s per week. The Government Information Bureau reckon that the retail price index today on a 1966 base is 126'1. Adjusting the diet cost, we obtain a figure of 42 shillings per week. Therefore to provide basic food for herself, a noncontributory pensioner must expend 56% of her present allowance. The American definition of poverty assumes that no more than one-third of the income concerned is expended on food. A rough adjustment is necessary, because of the benefits afforded the old in this country (free transport, heat, light). Nevertheless, it may be assumed that certainly non-contributory pensioners-some 113,00 people--may be accepted into this category of poverty. Contributory old age pensioners expend some fifty per cent of their budget on food. It is probable that supplementary benefits reduce the percentage to near the one-third mark, but it remains uncertain enough for us not to be confident about the state of prosperity they enjoy. Of course, two contributory pensioners living together are not, in financial terms, as badly off as two living separately. In addition, the non-contributory pensioner whose wife is under 70 is exceedingly badly off. Overall, we can assume that the non-contributory pensioner is significantly worse off than his contributory equivalent, except when both man and wife are over 70.
The lack of consistency in assessment is dramatically shown by the Dublin Health Authority investigation of 1966 which attempted to quantify needs of people over 60 living alone. The total expenditure was discovered to be £3 8s. 6d., not including rent. If we adi.ust to present-day figures, this comes to a figure of over £4. Rent allowances made by the Corporationwhich will reduce the rent in special circumstances-calculate that one-sixth of a person's income is a just rent. Generally, however, rents are low. Nevertheless, the extent of the problem of the individual pensioner is quite clear.
It is estimated that about 23% of people receiving Home Assistance are in receipt of Old Age and Blind Pensions. There are in the region of I35,000 people on Home Assistance, so, we may assume some 6,000 old people have such inadequate incomes that they must turn to Home Assistance for relief. Certainly 74% of the applicantsI of a sample investigated by Seamus O Cinneide were over 60, and of these 'three-quarters were women.In this sample, the average income per head was 72'95 shillings a week, and this was inadequate. The majority of our figures are for Dublin. In many respects the condition of rural old must be worse. It is likely their family are dispersed. They almost certainly have a very strong sense of isolation and in conditions of extreme need are less likely to receive Home Assistance than their city equivalent. Although they probably get cheaper food, the insularity of their position increases the social hardship of their life.
It is impossible to calculate how many old peop.le owe their continued survival to the good offices of charitable institutions and religious houses. The monumental work of Vincent de Paul for example, must make a considerable impression on the overall picture. In Dublin alone, for example, their expenditure was fully two-thirds of that of the Home Assistance authorities in 1966. Its budget of well over half a million pounds yearly, selectively distributed, must mean a good deal to those who are on the very border line of total destitution Many of the 24,000 houses they visited last yearinvolving probably in the region of one hundred thousand people--must have been inhabited by old age pensioners who are dependent for their clothes and extra money on the Society The Catholic Social Service Conference gave out 2,460,869 meals last year, many of them to the old.