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Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox.

Bavita Gopaulchan

Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox said she is deeply concerned about the increasing number of elderly people who are having their pension cheques stolen.

“It is happening. We are now getting reports almost every week or every two weeks of someone reporting their cheques missing,” Cox said during a telephone interview with Guardian Media.

When traced, the minister stated, these cheques are cashed at supermarkets.

“A supermarket reported that their cheques were not honoured by the Central Bank because of the fact that it was false pension cheques,” she said.

“I met with the Supermarkets Association and they have promised to work with us because they need to have more stringent measures but part of the problem they tell us is some people go with false ID cards,” she explained.

“We are not sure where this is emanating from but somewhere between TTPost and getting to the person, the cheques are stolen,” she indicated.

Minister Cox said even though cheques were fraudulently cashed, the state still has to issue new ones to the affected pensioners, therefore putting financial pressure on the state.

She also indicated that the Ministry is aware of families who are taking control of their elderly relatives’ finances.

“Now that the pension is a good amount of money, there are persons living off of their family member’s pension and are not taking care of them properly,” Cox lamented.

The Minister announced that she will be meeting with the Police Commissioner today (Wednesday) to discuss how the elderly can be protected against these types of crimes.

Additionally, she revealed that legislation to enhance the rights of the elderly will soon be brought to Parliament.

Neglect and financial abuse are the biggest challenges facing the elderly population in Trinidad and Tobago.

Amid the daily reporting of the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister said abuse is a silent epidemic now affecting thousands of elderly people.

For the period January 1st to May 31st, 2021, 174 reports of elderly abuse have been made to the ministry’s Older Persons Information Centre (OPIC) hotline.

Of this number, 123 were from private residences, 28 from homes for the elderly and the remaining 23 were categorised as “information requests”.

The most common form of reported abuse was neglect, numbering 53 cases followed by financial exploitation at 44 cases. There were also 35 cases of physical abuse and 20 cases of verbal/emotional/psychological abuse.

Meanwhile, Gerontologist Dr Jennifer Rouse noted that abuse against this portion of our population is grossly underreported. Dr Rouse, who is also a former Director of the Division of Ageing, underscored that some cases may not be deliberate abuse.

“We have to understand that many of the persons in these residential communities, it is family members who are untrained as caregivers but had to graduate into it because they had no choice,” Dr Rouse explained.

She encouraged people with elderly relatives to seek support and training through organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association on how to properly care for their loved ones.

Yesterday countries across the globe commemorated World Abuse Awareness Day.

In a media release to foster awareness of the mistreatment and exploitation of older persons, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services noted, “The quality of our society will be judged not only by the size of our GDP or our literacy levels but perhaps more importantly, by how we treat our elderly and by the place we afford them in the national space”.

Citizens are urged to report cases of elderly abuse to 800-6742 (OPIC).

President laments treatment of elderly during COVID

Meanwhile, President Paula-Mae Weekes has expressed concern about the many elderly victims of mistreatment, often at the hands of their loved ones, in her message for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

“Many cases of abuse go unreported and undetected, due in part to the culture of shame and secrecy that silences victims and harmful stereotypes which paint older persons as more expendable than other groups,” she said.

Her statement notes that elder abuse has many forms, but said that in the age of COVID-19, a particularly troubling manifestation is the failure to plan inclusively for the elderly.

“In the pivot to online services and other new ways of doing business, many senior citizens who are not equipped with technological know-how or devices have been left behind or exposed to financial exploitation by their relatives, friends or even strangers at the ATM. To reduce this risk, banks and other financial and public institutions must redouble their efforts to make their systems and services more accessible and accommodating to older adults,” she said.

She said the recent, appalling display of disregard for senior citizens “which left them standing — and when they could no longer stand, sitting— on the ground unshielded from the elements lining the nation’s roads is a less than subtle form of elder abuse”.

“Conditions that would have been traumatic for the young were visited upon our senior citizens; I could not help but think how my own 92-year-old mother would have fared in those circumstances. I take the opportunity to thank the thoughtful and compassionate citizens who provided chairs for them to rest their weary bones as they waited—some in vain—for the opportunity to be vaccinated,” she said.