New medical prescriptions policy: we call for protection of pensioners and the vulnerable

Action on Poverty/Equality Rights Group (AOP/ERG) have reacted to news that Government will be introducing a new policy for medical prescriptions as of 30th April.

‘No sooner has information of a new medical prescriptions policy been made public, than we have been inundated with calls and messages from people from around the community expressing their concerns. We have therefore immediately contacted Government expressing our concerns.

‘As AOP, we have been calling on Government for several years now to put those who are most economically vulnerable on the front line of concerns. This cuts across issues of social equality and discrimination as well, and for this reason, we have married two previously independent projects into one. ERG and AOP will henceforth be working as one.

‘People are alarmed and concerned. And by that we mean low-income pensioners and benefits-dependent individuals in particular.

‘The Chief Minister knows that AOP is no antagonist when it comes to logic and common-sense. Sensible housekeeping is an important element in good governance for any government. But we reiterate the reasoning that we have always laid out: what is required are structural measures, structural changes that adequately support those least able. Building that into this new proposed prescriptions policy is a prime example of making structure work in favour of those who most require support.

‘While it may seem reasonable to require a person in full employment or on a comfortable level of income to pay for over-the-counter medications which, though not life-threatening, may still be advisable to contain a medical condition, the picture is completely different when it comes to those in low income brackets, or living on slim pensions. They may just about be coping today, but we should be avoiding measures which can push them or their family over the edge.

‘Whilst it’s not for this NGO to enter into ideological debate on the wider political issues, ERG/AOP has been talking about the dangers of increasingly negative economic circumstances for a number of years now. And unfortunately things have only worsened. And there is nothing in the economic forecasts whether in Gibraltar or farther afield, to suggest the situation will do anything other than continue to worsen.

‘Today, the price of energy and the rising cost of an average basket of food (milk, vegetables, fruit, oil are just a few among many key items currently affected) have been rising sharply. Inflationary pressures resulting from interrupted supply/demand cycles (Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and, lately, the war in Ukraine), on top of the inevitable reduction in the buying power of the pound in everyone’s pocket mean that we face tough times ahead.

‘What does an elderly person on a low pension do? How do dependent individuals on low benefits cope? Paying for small items maybe small change for some, but it adds up for them very quickly. Call it hardship, or call it poverty, it ends up being the same thing: no Government can look the other way. We have to do better.

‘ERG/AOP has therefore written to the Chief Minister asking for a more nuanced policy to protect the vulnerable. They can’t be expected to pay for any health care items. We can’t treat everyone the same because not everyone in this community falls into the same category. We need some differentiation.

‘We are therefore hopeful that Mr. Picardo will consider introducing adjusting measures that will allow low-income vulnerable individuals to be given exemption from the over-the-counter cost of all prescriptions under the proposed new policy’, the statement closed.