Better protection needed for older people

Source : Age NI
Published on 15 December 2010 04:00 PM

Whilst the publication of the NI Executive’s draft four year budget may have passed the litmus test of political leadership, it remains to be seen if it will pass the litmus test of delivering the changes needed to rise to the opportunities of an ageing population. This is the view of Age NI after the Finance Minister made his statement to the Assembly today.

Anne O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Age said, ‘At the outset, Age NI is not convinced that the future of our ageing population has been addressed in this draft budget. Though we welcome the protection of the health elements of the health budget we are extremely concerned that no mention was made of the social care budget. Recent news coverage has demonstrated that the social care system in NI is in crisis and we now ask for a firm commitment from Minister McGimpsey to maintain current spending on social care whilst the Department go about re-shaping health and social care services so that older people remain healthier for longer and can exercise autonomy, choice and independence if and when they require care and support.’

She continued, ‘Age NI would like to see more investment in preventative and re-ablement programmes for older people that will allow them to remain independent and continue experiencing good health in later life. Evidence shows these initiatives are cost effective and save money in the long term. However additional funds must be made available for these programmes since taking money from the social care budget, which is currently under huge pressure, will only impact negatively on older people who require care and support. Age NI would recommend this funding becomes a priority for the ‘Invest to Save’ initiative.’

‘Age NI is also calling for the elimination of pensioner poverty as the recent increase in poverty levels amongst pensioners is alarming. Figures show that pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland has significantly increased over the past year with 23% of older people in NI living in poverty compared to 16% in the UK and an incredible £1.2m - £2.3m of Pension Credit is being left unclaimed each week by older people here. We believe that action from the Executive and Minister for Social Development to introduce automatic payments will address the issue of pensioner poverty. As well as improving outcomes for individual older people, there is also a strong economic argument the automatic payments could afford older people a better quality of life, increase local spending and boost the local economy. Pensioner poverty should be a priority for the NI Assembly because if we do not address the needs of our older population today we risk storing up greater problems at a higher cost to the public purse in the future.’

‘Age NI believes that, over the next ten years, the labour market in NI will have an additional 20,000 – 30,000 older workers as a result of changes to state pension age. This means that employment support programmes must deliver more specialist support for older workers to retrain and therefore improve the employment prospects of older people. We are calling on the NI Executive to plan adequately for the demographic shift that will result in more older workers. Our ageing population has the potential to be a positive driver for the continued recovery of the NI economy by providing informal care, volunteering and much needed services to communities across NI by remaining in the labour market. However these opportunities require dedicated policies and sustained commitment from the NI Executive. Age NI will work through the consultation process and next year’s Assembly elections to ensure this remains high on the political agenda.’

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