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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 15:14 GMT
Blind pensioners left in the dark
Blind woman
People with sight problems may not know they are eligible for help
Thousands of blind and partially sighted pensioners are being left alone to cope with inadequate state support, it is claimed.

They are at increased risk of poverty, accidents, and social exclusion, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).

The charity is launching a campaign to get a fairer deal for blind pensioners.

It says services for the blind must be improved at every level.

Hundreds of thousands of older people are struggling without any contact from the services they need.
Dan Vale, RNIB
The RNIB says services for those who have lost their sight are not sufficient and do not reach most of the people in need of help.

This is partly due to ignorance of their benefit entitlements, but a large portion of blame is directed at the authorities, who, it is claimed, are not carrying out proper assessments of their needs.

Many survive hand to mouth outside of a system which is supposedly designed to support them, according to a new report published by the charity.

'On the margins'

Accidents because of sight loss are common, with 44% of people questioned reporting an accident or fall as a direct result of their disability.

This same group had not received vital and inexpensive equipment which could have prevented accidents and 70% of those taking part in the survey had never heard of mobility training.

Nearly three quarters of those interviewed were living in or on the margins of poverty.

The situation is compounded by ignorance of available benefits, with 39% of people claiming to be unclear about their benefit entitlements.

Even though 83% of those questioned were registered as blind or partially sighted, less than half had received an assessment of their needs.

Dan Vale, RNIB UK Campaigns Manager and report author, said: "If you lose your sight you should receive good quality rehabilitation and support.

"We now know from this research that hundreds of thousands of older people are struggling without any contact from the services they need.

"It is a disgraceful situation, which should be addressed immediately."

The report was based on a survey of 588 British Gas customers in England, Scotland and Wales.

Awareness need

The report suggests the dearth in services is due to benefit staff missing specific problems arising from sight loss and to classifying people as lower priority than they should be.

It says service planners also wrongly believe sight loss is uncommon - even though one in 12 people over 60 will lose their sight.

But it says many elderly people do not report sight loss by older people themselves because they don't realise help is available.

The RNIB wants the NHS and local authorities to offer more help for people who lose their sight, including a prompt assessment and access to services.

And it said the government should raise awareness of the benefits people can claim, and offer help such as advocates to enable them to access them.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "It is down to local authorities and the local health community to plan and arrange the services available to people in their area, as they are closest to the people they serve and so best placed to respond sensitively to their needs."

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