Island’s politicians must change the tone of debate on seniors Claudette Fleming
Bermuda needs to change the tone of debate about poverty and focus on quality of life, according to Age Concern’s Claudette Fleming.
Bermuda has very little absolute poverty, but Ms Fleming said the issue of relative poverty remains, bringing nearly a thousand people to Age Concern in the last quarter looking for assistance.
“It’s about well being,” she said. “Whether or not you are able to live at a reasonable level based on the standard in your society. This is where it gets grey and we have a lot of people making judgments.
“That’s when it becomes difficult for some older seniors to share their hardship. They are facing a stigma, facing judgement. We need to change the debate to one about quality of life.”
According to the charity’s figures, in the last quarter of 2012 the charity services a total of 972 people, while supporting 162 people with help paying for food, prescription drugs and electricity.
“Generally power bills are not very high for seniors,” Ms Fleming said. “We come across the odd one, generally it’s $300 if not less.
“With the energy fund, what I have found is in most cases it’s a matter of problem solving. Belco is not always aware of the circumstances. All they know is Mr Smith hasn’t paid his bill in forever and a day.
“Now they send the seniors to Age Concern to see if they can be supported. There have been a number of cases where it’s not a matter of a senior not being able to pay a bill. We are able to sort the issues out.”
On one occasion, Ms Fleming said Age Concern received a call asking for help paying a whopping $10,000 energy bill.
“That was a red flag,” she said. “We called the family and said we were going to come to the house.
“The family said ‘You’re coming here?’ The next thing we knew the bill had been paid.”
She also said the charity helped 68 people pay for their prescription drugs in the last quarter, but noted that the figure changes based on the time of the year.
She said some seniors on HIP use up the money allocated for prescriptions under the programme during the year and only then need help.
And while many other charities provide the needy with food, she said Age Concern is able to fill a specific niche, providing short-term support for seniors while long-term solutions can be found.
“The price of food has gotten more expensive,” she said. “If people can get support paying for food, they can divert their money to pay other bills.”
Ms Fleming said she has become more concerned about the dialogue about seniors in politics. Both the PLP and the UBP had implemented policies to support seniors, but she said both the PLP and OBA have moved towards rolling back those policies in recent years.
She specifically noted the end of motor vehicle licence fee exemptions for seniors, approved last month in the House of Assembly and the Senate.
She said that most seniors purchased cars without considering the engine class, and because of the economic climate are now unable to sell them. And while they can still receive free public transportation, she said they deserve a better quality of life.
“The majority of seniors have drivers licences,” she said. “All of those people could get free public transportation but they are not doing it. Perhaps because the bus system doesn’t meet their needs. Perhaps because they are not accessible, or because of the time schedule.
“Having a vehicle licence gives a senior that independence that is so important to retain a sense of dignity and a quality of life.”
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