The 23rd of June is fast approaching, and we will soon be heading to the polls. The question of whether or not we should remain in the EU has dominated dinner table, bus stop and coffee shop discussions for months; everyone has their own talking points, and many of you have already made up your minds. Unfortunately, lots of figures and charts have been thrown around by both campaigns. Everything from how we buy bananas to the funding of the NHS have been questioned; resulting in serious confusion.
So while everyone has a recycled line about the EU as it relates to immigration and the economy, what about senior citizens? It may be likely that by the end of this article, you won't have changed your mind-but hear me out. I think that it's important for everyone to get an accurate understanding of our relationship with the EU and how it benefits us before voting.
The EU has implemented strong measures for older generations to enable them, if they choose, to remain in work longer. This is done through the promotion of flexible working hours and working from home and funding lifelong learning and training. There are EU programmes like Europe for Citizens, which promote civic participation and Erasmus+, which provides educational support for lifelong learning.
Under European Union regulations, workplace discrimination based on age is illegal. Another piece of legislation is currently being developed to ban other aspects of age-related discrimination.
The European Social Fund (ESF) provides significant resources to promote active and healthy ageing. For 2014-2020, the UK will receive £8.6bn for initiatives such as improving skills for citizens over 50. Another beneficial programme is Horizon 2020, the largest-ever EU research and innovation programme for universities and SMEs, with a budget of £57bn. The UK has won the highest share of grants for this programme, providing vital research on Alzheimer's, projects finding IT solutions to assist the elderly and for research on improving sustainable care systems.
Protecting the interests of citizens with disabilities:
The EU's Disability Strategy 2010-2020 has a wide range of proposals that European countries can introduce to improve the quality of life for citizens living with a disability. The new law will include minimum requirements to ensure that essential products and services are disability-friendly, allowing for greater participation. Other measures include measures to enhance access for citizens with mobility problems in regards to finding transport solutions and better access in urban centres.
There are roughly 400,000 British pensioners living in another EU country. The EU safeguards the right for pensioners to draw their pensions wherever they might live within the EU. This also applies to invalidity and survivors' pensions. By 2018, new protections will be in place for workers' occupational pension rights if individuals decide to work outside the UK in the EU. With the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), British citizens abroad in the EU have the right to free healthcare. Between 2009 and 2013, the UK had over 500,000 claims for healthcare abroad in the EU.
Many of these services and benefits will be undermined if we leave the EU. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned of a £20bn to £40bn gap in our public finances by 2020 if we leave. And a very recent analysis by the TUC, who represents nearly 6 million UK workers, warns of a 25% slash to the NHS's budget by 2019-2020. According to the IFS, our net contribution to the EU is 1.2% of our national budget, while our government completely controls 98.8% of all other public expenditures. So while Brexiters will have us think that our contributions to the EU cost us an arm and a leg, think again. On top of the above, we benefit a great deal from our membership with the EU. Millions of pounds in daily investments, over 100,000 EU nationals supporting the NHS and shared security services to tackle terrorism and organised crime are just a few examples. For those of you strongly in favour voting to leave, these warnings will no doubt displease you, but these are real facts.
I don't think it's fair that people wrongly use the EU as a scapegoat for the failures of national governments to adequately tackle critical issues. As I hope I've demonstrated, there is much good that the EU can and does do for older generations, but equally, there is much opportunity for younger generations. On Thursday I hope you'll vote with your heads, as well with your hearts. It's not too late to change your mind!