Hard up seniors choose between food, medication or electricity
The advocacy group for seniors, Age Concern, has been inundated with calls for assistance to help keep the lights on. The Age Concern Belco Hardship Fund was established last June to assist senior citizens on fixed incomes who are having trouble making ends meet.
Director James McCulloch, who assesses the cases attributes the increase to the fact that several seniors have reached the limit on their health insurance allowances that cover 80 percent of costs for prescription drugs.
In some cases the need is so bad that seniors are having to choose between buying food, medication that keeps them alive or pay their light bills.
With $24,000 in donations 25 households have been assisted to the tune of $15,000.
In an interview with The Royal Gazette, Mr McCulloch said: This is the worst weve ever seen it, they keep coming and the numbers are accelerating.
The insurance coverage runs on the same financial year as government. The new financial year starts April 1 and by this time of year many of the applicants have reached the ceiling.
Until next month they either pay the full price for medicine or they dont buy it, or they fall behind on other bills its a sign of the times.
Most of the people I meet they are proud, theyre embarrassed about having to ask, theyre grateful for any help they can get and many of them are at their wits end.
Theyre stressed, many are single or widowed, 70 percent are women. I see elderly married couples and single male applicants as well, most are being threatened with a disconnect, their bills range from $250 to $2,000.
The largest single bill paid was $2,000 for a man who is out of work who is over the age of 65 but theres a lot of people are haunted by being out of work. The son or daughter who chipped in before are now unemployed.
We cant give every month its a one-off payment; we give them a hand up just to get over one crisis in the hope that things will get better in the spring or in the summer.
Some people are in jobs that depend on the tourism industry, taxi drivers say theyll be able to get work in April but they need help now because they cannot pay their bills.
We must be able to see that there is a prospect of them being able to cope with their electricity bill if we just take care of this one. They must be in danger of being disconnected or actually be disconnected, Ive been to houses that are actually in the dark.
Its very real when you have somebody who has already had a stroke or hes got a pacemaker and is in in desperate need. The level of family support varies, sometimes theyre all chipping in and sometimes theyre not.
It makes for a very lonely situation for a lot of senior citizens, at the rate were going all the money will soon be all gone. We do need some help, our budget has been cut for the last two years. We get grants from Government, charities and others but were all facing the same story; charitable donations are difficult to find.
The most troubling cases he has seen so far involves an elderly woman in her 80s who has already had a stroke. She is on medication to prevent her from having another stroke and in January she was told her coverage has run out.
She took her last bit of money out of the bank to pay for either her prescription or she bought food, but she has stopped taking her medication.
I dont see the logic from a countrywide point of view. If she has another stroke, theres considerable chances that not only will her lifestyle be impaired but she might end up in long term care which will cost a fortune.
It would be far better to keep her on preventive medicine than it will to deal with the consequences of her having another stroke or even a heart attack. She was two months in arrears, her light bill was $400 but its hard to catch up once you fall behind.
The problem does not discriminate it doesnt matter what colour you are I am seeing them all, Im meeting and seeing people from all walks of life.
Mr McCulloch also questioned what he termed the short sightedness of the decision by Government to relax the rules to allow people to dip into their pension funds due to hardtimes.
I meet people who dont have much income by way of pensions, they get an occupational pension or sometimes they dont. Sometimes they have a full government pension of about $1,100, but there are those who dont have a full contribution record.
I would be very reluctant to dip into my own pension fund no matter how hard times are because it affects your future, it means youll have less pension going forward.
A pension payment holiday in some ways I think its madness. I see people now who dont have enough to live on, in 20 years well be finding more people whos income is reduced partly because they took advantage of this.
All it does is let you steal from your own future. In a world of instant gratification some people just wont care and thats exactly the point.
The most insidious thing is its tempting, its attractive and it gives you something now, but its not going to help you later. All it means is another set of elderly poor people, a new underclass. There is a price to be paid for dipping into your pension now, it means poverty when youre 65.