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So Near Yet So Far
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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 20:38 GMT
Growing old

Not all pensioners can afford to stay at home


In the final episode of Radio 4's So Near Yet So Far programme presenter Jenny Cuffe compares provision for the elderly in the UK and Germany.

Many Bristol pensioners are furious with the government's offer of a 75p increase in the pension.

The chancellor of the exchequer's promise of 100 for winter fuel, and a cash reward of 100 next autumn to help the over 75s pay their television licences, has done nothing to mollify 74-year-old Connie Morris, an active campaigner for the elderly.

She thinks that, rather than offer the occasional hand-out, the government should restore the link between pensions and wages.

"People are thinking pensioners are a bind, parasites always coming round with their begging bowls. Give them the money and let them get on with it."

Living on fresh air

A third of Bristol pensioners are on income support, in other words they're officially poor.

Lillian Stiddard, aged 83, has worked all her life in factories and still does a full time voluntary job, but now she has to manage on a weekly pension of 66.75. "They expect us to live on fresh air", she says.

In Hanover, older people tend to be better off, but the German state pension is collapsing under the strain of an ageing population and high unemployment.

The government spends 17% of GDP on pensions while Britain spends 4%.

Diminishing state role

After a full working life, a pensioner receives 70% of his income but - in a move in our direction - the ruling party has decided to reduce benefit and encourage more private provision.

There was outrage when it suggested that the link between pensions and wages should be suspended for the next two years.

The fact that people are living longer and are therefore more likely to need care puts a strain on both countries.

Four years ago, the Germans found a radical solution when they introduced a system of care insurance. Every worker has to pay 1.7% of earnings and give up a national bank holiday to pay for long term care.

Those who are assessed as in need are given an allowance of 250 to 900 a week, depending on their level of disability, or a reduced sum that they can give to relatives to look after them. The scheme, which is the same across all the federal states, has led to a mushrooming of companies and charities offering home help and nursing services.

Choosing care

Ellen Schindehitte, who is in her 60s and confined to a wheelchair, can now choose the care that most suits her. She pays the Red Cross to help her get washed and dressed every morning.

An interpreter explains: "Before this scheme she had to pay privately for everything. She wasn't satisfied with the private agency but now she's back with the Red Cross nurses whom she really likes".

Older people in Bristol have to compete with vulnerable children and disadvantaged families for a limited social services budget.

Staying at home

Maya Bimson of Help the Aged believes they invariably lose out. And there's no uniformity of provision for those who want to stay in their own home.

"Across Britain it is a lottery as to what services you do get or don't get. It depends on who is providing the services, what budget your social services has, where you live and how remote you are".

Local authorities contract out services to charities and the private sector and pensioners who've saved more than 3,000 have to pay for anything extra they need.

Gladys Hendra, in her eighties and suffering from arthritis, says that it's becoming too expensive for her to stay in her own home.

Forced into care

She pays 20 a week to have her house cleaned, and more for the grass to be cut. "What money I've got coming in - goes. I've only got one child - my daughter- and she's got multiple sclerosis and can't do anything for herself."

Her eyes welling with tears she says that she's now put her name down for a residential home. "I'm doing it because I don't want my daughter to be upset."

A declining birth rate - 1.2 children per family in Germany, 1.7 in Britain - and a longer life-span, means there are going to be fewer people to finance and provide care.

It's a problem that spans the whole European Union, making governments question the existing contract between young and old.
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See also:
13 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Getting about
06 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
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Falling ill

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