Penal laws (Editorial)

Jan O'Sullivan  picTHE NEW Penal laws – that’s what the Limerick branch of the Senior Citizens Parliament is calling the cost-saving measures that are causing so much concern to older people and people with disabilities.

Changes were announced this week to the Housing Adaptation Grant for people with a Disability; the Housing Aid for Older People and the Mobility Aids Grant.

From now on, applicants seeking the Housing Aid Grant for Older People must be over the age of 66 – where previously applicants needed to be 60 years of age. In future, the income of all household members is to be considered in means assessment for grants – up until now only the income of the applicant and the spouse was assessed.

Under the Housing Adaptation and Housing Aid Schemes, households in the lowest income band with an income of €30,000 or less will only receive 95 per cent of the costs and not 100 per cent as was previously the case.

The upper income limit to be eligible for both schemes has been reduced by €5,000 to €60,000 and applicants for grants must also prove they have paid their property tax.

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On the face of it, some of the measures may seem reasonable but where can people living on €188 a week find the money to make up 5 per cent of the cost of building a downstairs bathroom?

Raising the age at which grants can be applied for is nothing but a cost saving measure. A person with arthritis can be as unable to climb a set of stairs at 61 as someone who is 66.

Minister Jan O’Sullivan defended the measures on the basis that it will mean more people can be helped with grants but it’s hard to see how this can be done with increasing restrictions on eligibility.

Sometimes a downstairs bathroom is the difference between a person being able to stay in the dignity of their own home and having to go into residential care.

And in very many cases, that will be at a disproportionate cost in both human and fiscal terms.