Hard up seniors choose between food, medication or electricity

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  • Age Concern has been inundated with requests for help from the Age Concern Belco Hardship Fund.

    Age Concern has been inundated with requests for help from the Age Concern Belco Hardship Fund.

  • James McCulloch
(Photo by Akil Simmons)

    James McCulloch (Photo by Akil Simmons)


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 we’ve 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 don’t buy it, or they fall behind on other bills it’s a sign of the times.”

“Most of the people I meet they are proud, they’re embarrassed about having to ask, they’re grateful for any help they can get and many of them are at their wits end.

“They’re 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 there’s a lot of people are haunted by being out of work. The son or daughter who chipped in before are now unemployed.

“We can’t give every month it’s 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 they’ll 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, I’ve been to houses that are actually in the dark.

“It’s very real when you have somebody who has already had a stroke or he’s got a pacemaker and is in in desperate need. The level of family support varies, sometimes they’re all chipping in and sometimes they’re not.”

“It makes for a very lonely situation for a lot of senior citizens, at the rate we’re 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 we’re 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 don’t see the logic from a countrywide point of view. If she has another stroke, there’s 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 it’s hard to catch up once you fall behind.

“The problem does not discriminate it doesn’t matter what colour you are I am seeing them all, I’m 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 don’t have much income by way of pensions, they get an occupational pension or sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have a full government pension of about $1,100, but there are those who don’t 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 you’ll have less pension going forward.

“A pension payment holiday in some ways I think its madness. I see people now who don’t have enough to live on, in 20 years we’ll be finding more people who’s 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 won’t care and that’s 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 you’re 65.”

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Published Mar 6, 2012 at 8:50 am (Updated Mar 6, 2012 at 8:50 am)

Hard up seniors choose between food, medication or electricity

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