‘It feels discriminatory!’ Free prescriptions could end for over 60s after pension change

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Martin Lewis offers advice on NHS prescriptions

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The Government is exploring raising the eligibility threshold for free prescriptions with the state pension age, which is 66. Currently, residents in England are able to claim this support once they turn 60. Those who live in Scotland and Wales are able to get free prescriptions no matter what age they are. However, if this policy were implemented, carers would inadvertently be more detrimentally impacted than other vulnerable groups.

One in four people between the ages of 60 and 65 are unpaid carers, which comes to around 860,000 people, according to Age UK.

Of this group, less than one in ten receive crucial benefits support, like Carer’s Allowance, from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Some 56 percent of carers in this age demographic have left paid employment to look after someone instead, which means they are more likely to be on low income.

While many can apply for a medical exemption, Age UK is warning that carers will have to spend more money on medication which could otherwise be used on other vital utilities.

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One woman who got help from the charity said: “As an unpaid carer whose only source of income is Carer’s Allowance, I need free prescriptions.

“I won’t be able to afford my prescriptions if I have to pay for them, meaning my own health will deteriorate and I won’t be able to continue with my caring role.”

Sharing her story with Age UK, another woman said: “I had to give up work at 58 to care for my husband who has severe Alzheimer’s. I don’t yet qualify for my state pension and only get Carer’s Allowance, so money is always tight.

“We already spend a small fortune on care costs, costs associated with incontinence, extra on heating, water for washing etc. Paying for prescriptions would cause issues.”

Debbie told Age UK: “I’ve had to take an early retirement on a reduced pension to care for my husband who has dementia.

“Money is tight – It feels discriminatory as the more medical conditions you have, the harder you’ll be hit.”

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, outlined how the Government proposal will detrimentally impact the country’s older population, who are more likely to be unpaid carers for loved ones.

Ms Abrahams explained: “There is ample evidence showing that older carers often struggle with their own health problems, so making them start paying for their medication simply risks them becoming even less fit and well.

“When a carer’s health breaks down and they are unable to continue to care then this is not only bad news for them and their loved one, it piles extra pressure on our beleaguered health and care system too.

“So why is the Department of Health and Social Care considering adopting a policy that makes carer breakdown more likely, and at a time when we are not yet out of the woods of the pandemic?

“The adverse impact on older carers of this policy proposal adds to our sense that it has not been properly thought through.

“One senior doctor told me it was a ‘ridiculous idea’, because it is so likely to be self-defeating.

“The money the NHS saves from making more people buy their medication is almost certain to be outweighed by the costs of treating health conditions that worsen because some 60-65 year olds adhere less rigorously to their prescribed treatment regimes.

“Fortunately it’s not too late for the Government to change its mind. We are urging the Secretary of State to drop a bad idea which flies in the face of other Government priorities, one which was developed before he joined the Department.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.

“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age. We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”

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