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Questions we asked election candidates:
What will you do to make sure that the next Executive ensures that Pension Credit is paid automatically to those people who are entitled to it?
Will you campaign to ensure that the NI Assembly commits to eliminating pensioner poverty by an agreed date?
What will you do to support programmes that increase older people’s employment options in later life?
Pensioner poverty is on the increase in Northern Ireland, and it’s affects single older women most. Most older people in Northern Ireland rely on the basic state pension as their main source of income, with full contributions this amounts to £97.65 a week for a single person, £156.15 for a couple or just £58.50 for those who haven’t paid your full contributions. (£58.50 is for a ‘non contributory’ pension for over 80’s, set at 60% of the state pension).
High levels of pensioner poverty are a serious cause for concern, not only for older people but for us all. Living in poverty increases the chances that you’ll have poorer health, live in poorer quality accommodation and not be able to afford many items which support you to be healthy such as a nutritional diet or enough fuel during winter to adequately heat your home. It may also mean that you will be isolated from your community and from the services that you need to support you to remain independent.
We believe it is time to dedicate attention and focus to addressing this issue. Action on improving the basic state pension and ensuring that the gap between average earnings and the pension closes is the responsibility of our MPs at Westminster. We call on all political parties with MPs at Westminster to show leadership and take action now to ensure this happens. However, our Assembly members can also take actions which will dramatically improve the situation for older people in Northern Ireland.
Our Assembly and the Executive can agree other things to combat poverty among older people, like committing to eliminate pensioner poverty by an agreed date. Making pensioner poverty a high priority issue like this will allow all government departments to dedicate resources and attention to addressing the issue in a planned and effective way.
Pension Credit was introduced in 2003 to ensure a minimum guaranteed income for older people, but somewhere between £1.2m and £2.3 million worth of Pension Credit that older people are entitled to goes unclaimed each week. The impact of this on the local economy should not be underestimated. Automatic payment of Pension Credit would address the barriers associated with low uptake and bring additional money into the Northern Ireland economy. Being paid the benefit automatically will take the onus off older people to make a claim and would eliminate the stigma attached to the claims process.
Employment can provide older people not only with the opportunity to earn additional income, but also with a vital source of self esteem and independence, promoting social engagement, continued participation and positive health. Improving employment prospects for older people is necessary for the sustainability and growth of our economy as our population continues to age.
Unfortunately, unemployment is a very real issue for people over the age of 50. Government’s own figures show that training programmes for people over 50 aren’t as effective at securing sustainable employment for that age group as for others. Improving the outcomes from these programmes is a start, and ending the default retirement age is another positive action that the Executive could take to promote the continued employment of older people.
Work also needs to be undertaken with employers to create the circumstances for older people to remain in employment. Flexible working patterns and a continuing focus on training are just some of the ways of achieving this. Those employers who actively recruit older people report that it’s better for their business.
High 5 factsheet - Maximise Pensioner Income (PDF 178KB)
Leaflets, factsheets and guides aimed to keep you informed about ageing well in Northern Ireland.
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