‘The old and vulnerable are becoming victims,’ says ERG/AOP

‘We’ve been waiting since 19th July for a response to a letter to government, and it still hasn’t come,’ Equality Rights Group (ERG)/Action on Poverty (AOP) said in a statement to the press.

‘In our representations to the Chief Minister almost three months ago, we urged government to address issues related to the cost of living crisis and the accumulating pressures on the poor and vulnerable, Chairman Felix Alvarez explained.

‘Today we have again written to Mr. Picardo; and, out of courtesy, and as the social consequences continue to widen, we’ve also copied the Director General of the GHA’,

‘Whether it’s those on low incomes and dependent, or the elderly and on small pensions, the disabled, or the working poor who cannot make ends meet even though they’re in employment, the deterioration in essential aspects of life in our community is more and more worrying. Dependence on local food banks is increasingly a matter of survival for growing numbers of individuals and families, with the backdrop of a failed and unreformed social security system locked into the 1950s. A reality that will press on the ability of humanitarian groups in the sector who will, themselves, find the purchasing power of their funds shrinking. As the rising cost of living changes household economies, charities will now start feeling the pinch in their fundraising.

‘The mix of factors that we face is truly toxic, especially when government’s response is to do as little as possible. Economic indicators for the UK show a services sector in dire straits. Given that services make up 75% of total activity in the British economy and that recession is already considered on the cards, diagnostics for Gibraltar’s service-centred economy should be urging us to take pre-emptive measures to protect the most at risk. We are not seeing this.

‘It’s not news that ERG/AOP has been warning for the past three years of not only the existence but the eventual spread of hardship and poverty in our community. The chilling fact now is that the crisis is no longer a reality limited to only those in sectors of what might be termed ‘traditional poverty’ in our community, but that it is spreading to other areas of society. This should sound the alarm bells for us all.

‘As head of Government, the Chief Minister must respond for what is happening; while the hard bubbles of silence that surround Together Gibraltar and the GSD currently on this matter question the very functioning of political ‘opposition’ at this time. It is lamentable that while inter-Party fighting crowds the headlines, ordinary citizens find it more and more difficult to cope with a cost of living crisis before which the politicians have remained mostly passive. Indeed the question on too many people’s lips is: is there no Opposition to speak of in Gibraltar? Where is the GSD? Where is Together Gibraltar? Not only the poor and vulnerable, but more and more ordinary citizens are questioning the evident lack of leadership that presses upon our society on this front.

‘We have asked government to investigate and introduce measures to rein in unjustified increases in people’s household shopping; increases that bear no reasonable or proportionate relation to the rise in inflation over the period. The response to date: nothing.

‘But it is clear that the greatest concern for all politicians, and for government in particular, must be the elderly and vulnerable in our midst. Months later, has the Chief Minister’s effusive concern for the vulnerable in his Budget Speech materialised? While governments around the globe have provided subsidies on food and energy to individuals and families in need, or have taken measures to prevent the unrestrained surge in the price of food and household items, the Gibraltar government has simply looked on. Why?

And yet, in the very opposite direction, the Administration has been active in instituting harsh cutbacks on those least able to bear them; an example of this is the Administration’s approval for the brutal withdrawal of a range of quality-of-life medications by the GHA several months ago. This has been a major contributor to the deterioration of what has until recently been a mostly principled universal medical care system funded by working people’s lifelong contributions. And it is no exaggeration to call the withdrawal effect ‘brutal’; because, in contrast to the soft reassurances of a promised ‘nuanced approach’ given by both the Chief Minister and the Director General GHA on the launch of the new prescriptions policy, items have not been subject to individualised case-by-case clinical evaluation.  If reports are correct, contrary to what had been advised, a wide number of medications have simply been removed without further ado. So much for ‘nuance’. And reports have reached us that affected individuals have been left with just an invitation to bureaucracy: the offer of an eventual Medical Board appeal to ‘assess’ a decision! Meantime, the patient is left not only with their pain but with the total absence of the removed medications that, up to that point, have proved satisfactory to both their doctor and patient. This is a far cry from concern for the vulnerable. It is calculated red tape which we’d be delighted to find is mistakenly understood. We are open to correction. In particular, because some pensioners are already having to choose whether to spend £100 at a pharmacy for a one-month supply of pain relief plasters for their chronic condition – or at the supermarket food aisle. And, additionally, if reports are accurate, withdrawal decisions on patients’ health and comfort are being taken not by doctors familiar with their patients’ profiles but by faceless committees at several removes.

‘We are seeing it every day: the old and vulnerable are becoming victims of a policy that admits neither nuance nor adjustment when old age and chronic pain hit hard.

‘In a scenario where government refuses to address the genuine problems of more and more people in our community, ERG/AOP is addressing deficiencies by establishing the groundwork for a coalition of concerned sectors to raise the volume on collective concerns.

‘But despite disappointment, it is our obligation to never give up in our objective of working with all parts in the earnest aim of obtaining satisfactory solutions in the reasonable pursuit of good governance and well-being,’ the statement closed.

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