Monday, June 27, 2005

Social Services ‘reaching the people’ says Del Agua

Yvette del Agua, Minister for Social and Civic Affairs, yesterday lashed out at the “politically motivated rumours being circulated that this Government is cutting back on expenditure for the most vulnerable members of our society” and declared that the service is being more heavily invested in than ever.

Mrs del Agua said that spending had gone up by £5 million in the past two years to £19.5M, the bulk of it directly into social care.

Elderly Care Agency is now spending £5.1 million pounds, compared to £3.5 million last year due to the expansion of the Mount Alvernia home which now caters for 65 more residents after a capital investment of £3.3 million. The major recruitment exercise that followed involved an additional 67 nursing posts plus a number of ancillary staff.

The minister said that government is committed to installing lifts in Government estates and the imminent building of 200 homes for the elderly, similar to Bishop Canilla.

Mrs del Agua announced that senior citizens who are heads of their household or tenants, even if any other family members live with them may now be entitled to certain allowances they were previously excluded from. This refers to the scheme set up in September 2000 which guaranteed every person over 60 who lived alone, with their spouse or another elderly person, and who did not work, an income which in July 2004 was £95.40 for a single person and £127.20 for a married couple. This year it is again being increased to £98.26 and £131 respectively.

Special Pool

She announced that elderly and disabled people will soon have a purpose built swimming pool. Funds to the tune of £1 million have been allocated for this purpose. The construction of the project began at the end of May with the repositioning of the GASA car park. Excavation works for the pool itself have also started and completion is expected to take place in December of this year. The complex will include an 18 x 20 metre pool equipped with a ramp, and other amenities to enable it to be enjoyed by disabled persons and elderly people, including wheelchair access. It will provide specially designed changing and showering areas.

Although primarily intended for use during the summer months, it can also be enjoyed during the winter as the complex will incorporate a sliding roof and folding side glass panels, together with a water heating system and ambience temperature control. An open sun bathing terrace will be available. Sea bathing facilities will be provided with a sea level platform and a ramp to enable access. Designated disabled parking bays will also be provided at the entrance.

Child Welfare

On the Child Welfare Grant which since 1999 takes into account the combined parental income, as opposed to the income of the highest wage earner, and by increasing the ceiling from £20,000 to £30,000, Mrs del Agua announced new thresholds.

The combined parental earnings limit will be increased from £30,000 to £35,000, The lower income level at which the grant is paid at a higher rate will also be increased from £15,000 to £17,500.

Government hopes this year to rectify the historic situation whereby a divorced woman loses all entitlement to a pension based on her husband’s social insurance contributions.

Mrs del Aguas said they will be delivering on another of our manifesto commitments, which is to allow married women who have paid or are paying the reduced social insurance stamp, to make retrospective payments of the difference between that stamp and the full social insurance contribution, thereby entitling them to a higher pension in their own right.

“The adoption of these two measures will represent a historic achievement for women in general, and will serve to give women who avail themselves of these schemes, more financial independence and security,” she said.

Prison Relocation

Moorish Castle Prison is to relocate to a purpose built facility at Lathbury Barracks releasing one of Gibraltar’s most important heritage assets. Mrs del Agua announced that £0.5m pounds has been provided this year to commence the construction of the new prison and the architects are now finalising detailed planning schedules.

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