A lot has been written and said lately about the plight of the elderly in Cyprus. Perhaps it has something to do with presidential electioneering. After all, with a growing elderly population already at 22 per cent, that represents quite a few voters.
Some of the accounts have been harrowing like the report earlier this week about the rape of a pensioner with mobility issues by his 26-year-old caregiver who has been jailed for 12 years.
There is no way to tell how common sexual abuse of the elderly is whether they’re being cared for at home or in nursing homes but there are enough incidents of neglect and physical abuse either deliberate or through ignorance and lack of training to make it extremely concerning.
According to some NGOs that are involved in helping the elderly, a helpline receives two calls per day, that’s over 700 a year.
Outside of the extreme and into the everyday, a recent discussion at the House human rights committee pointed out the lack of means for the elderly, especially in rural areas, to access the services they need to live an independent life, be it banking, lack of ambulances, pharmacies or transport. High energy prices were making it even more difficult for them to cope. Many rely on NGOs.
But never fear. The government has announced launch of free digital skills courses for older people because that’s what they really need, not a better pension so they can afford to heat their homes and eat properly, to know that if they fall ill, an ambulance will come, and that if they need government assistance that someone will pick up the phone and explain things to them.
Instead, the government will teach them “how to use computers and smartphones, office software and collaboration tools” so they won’t pester the civil servants with their annoying queries because the digital transition is more important.
It did not occur to the government, because it doesn’t care, to perhaps set up a dedicated phone service for the elderly during this transition period. Instead, they are further isolating them from society because not everyone will be able to attend such lessons and even if they did, there is no guarantee they will get the hang of digital technology.
Tellingly, the Cyprus recovery and resilience plan is worth around €1 billion in aid from Brussels but only 7 per cent of that will go to social programmes while 23 per cent will go to the digital transition and 40 per cent to making Cyprus ‘green’.
Two years ago, the cabinet announced what’s called a ‘red button’ programme that would provide a paging service through a bracelet worn by the elderly, those with disabilities and chronic illnesses. In case of emergency, people would be able to contact a coordination centre, available 24/7 and staffed by social workers, psychologists, and trained volunteers.
The plan is still sitting on the deputy minister for welfare’s desk, which says it all.