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Campaigners plan Thursday protest over changes to Community Care

Eyleen Gomez

The Community Care Action Group is collecting signatures for a petition that will be handed to the Governor, the Gibraltar Government and Community Care trustees during a demonstration planned for Thursday.

The group wants the charity to reverse changes introduced last year to eligibility criteria for its ‘community officer scheme’, insisting the change has left many people facing financial hardship.

Community Care Action Group wants the charity to revert back to the previous criteria and pay arrears to those who have missed out on the allowance due to the change.

Alternatively, it wants the Government of Gibraltar to equalise male pensionable age and the Household Cost Allowance to 60, the same as women, something the GSLP/Liberals had committed to do in three successive general elections.

The changes to Community Care came into effect in February last year and locked out new male applicants who would otherwise have been eligible at 60.

The Community Care Action Group said the changes were implemented without prior warning or consultation, meaning many people were left without payments they had factored into the financial planning for retirement.

On Monday, the group said the changes had created “a disgraceful injustice” not just to men in the 60 to 65 age bracket who are immediately impacted, “but also all men at every age who will at some time reach retirement age in Gibraltar.”

“In fact, this is not only the biggest arbitrary action since the start of our Constitution, but in our democracy,” the group said in a statement.

“The people who speak out against it are subjected to disgraceful intimidating tactics by the very political party that are doing it.”

“In Gibraltar, the lack of action by the general public is not due to apathy but due to helplessness and fear of oppressive reprisals and intimidation by the government and their network of activists.”

The group called on people to support the protest and “stand up and be counted.”

When the changes were announced, the trustees of Community Care said they were necessary to ensure payments targeted those who most need them and, in effect, meant reverting to the previous system used when the charity was first established.

The charity said the scheme had changed over the years from its original format, with relaxed eligibility criteria meaning that even men who retired with large pensions received full payments amounting to an “unjustifiable” £50 per hour of volunteering.

Community Care said the system had become “unfair,” hence the need for changes, including means testing for employment income and pensions.

But the Community Care Group said that it was the responsibility of the government and the charity to have ensured that the allowance was not abused and was properly funded, adding that they are “solely responsible” for the situation now.

It said that previous recipients had received Community Care payments without being means tested and being brought into question or “vilified,” a reference to a series of hard-hitting articles published in the GSLP newspaper The New People critical of the campaign group and many of its members.

On Monday, the group accused the government and Community Care of a “hypocritical, immoral witch hunt” and demanded a public inquiry to ensure scrutiny and keep the government “in check.”

At the Piazza yesterday, Francis Williams, a member of the campaign group’s committee, said many men who were retiring at 60 had been counting on receiving the Community Care payments.

“I am not saying that had they been means tested they would not have received it, but they were counting on it because that was something that was always done in the past,” he said.

“It is not that we are annoyed about it. It is the way it has been implemented. If you were given time people would have made other choices and arrangements.”

“They might have continued work, which in one way is also taking away the opportunity for younger people finding work because you are asking people to stay for longer.”

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