The Southern Health Trust has flatly refused to pay anything towards a Rural Transport Scheme to ferry the elderly and disabled to a twice-weekly luncheon club.
The authority came under fire from a local councillor, who said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Trust was unwilling to contribute anything towards efforts to save the scheme.
Slieve Gullion representative Terry Hearty made the comments after speaking with the Trust and the Rural Transport Scheme to discuss a 33% cut to the service, which brings people to a community centre in Crossmaglen, in a meeting he described as “frank and to the point”.
“This cut will have a devastating effect on the entire rural area and will exacerbate cases of rural isolation, one of the biggest problems facing elderly people,” he said.
“The Transport Scheme brings otherwise isolated elderly and disabled people to luncheon clubs twice a week; a scheme that ensures they not only get at least two hot meals a week, a luxury for some of them, but is also the focal point of their social lives.
“To deprive them of this would do untold damage and send a message that says they are not part of our community. It is simply unacceptable.
“There has been a suggestion that elderly people could pay as much as £7 per trip for the scheme themselves. This only goes to show how out of touch the people who make these decisions are with the day to day reality for poor and elderly people.
“Taking £14 a week out of a single person pension will leave people on the breadline; they will literally have to decide between heating or eating.
“Following my meeting with the Trust I am extremely disappointed that they are unwilling to put anything towards this scheme, despite the fact that prior to it being put in place, they paid for transport.
“The Trust’s own website states that their reason for existing is to ‘support people and communities to live healthy lives and improve their health and wellbeing’ and ‘be a good social partner within our local communities’.
“How do they square that with contributing to the isolation from the community of elderly and disabled people and pushing them further into poverty?
“While the hack and slash policies of English Tories have lead to these cuts it is the DRD’s responsibility to manage what remains of their budget appropriately.
“It is horrifying to see then, that Minister Danny Kennedy has chosen to start with some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We are all told these cuts are necessary but they always seem to start at the bottom, they never begin at the top.
“It also seems so unnecessary when you consider how much needless waste there is within department, yet they choose to attack the vulnerable in order to save a relative pittance.”
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