The worries of Northern Ireland pensioners will be pressed home during ‘heated exchanges’ with Stormont ministers and other politicians over the next two days in Belfast.
The results of surveys of 1,200 pensioners will be articulated by more than 200 of their peers when they come face-to-face with ministers, experts and cross-party MPs and MLAs at the annual pensioners’ parliament.
Age Sector Platform, which is organising the event, said yesterday that they expect “some heated exchanges” as usual. Spokesman Seamus Lynch said: “In the past one MLA said it had been ‘like a bearpit’ while another said it had been ‘tougher than the Nolan Show’.
“We have surveyed pensioners in every county across Northern Ireland and also surveyed 1,200 people for their views,” he said.
“Their top five concerns in order of importance are: keeping warm in winter with rising energy costs, rising food prices, the fear of crime, access to health and social care and information on benefits and entitlements.
“Nowadays some older people have to make a choice about eating or buying heating oil. Pensions only rise by 2 per cent each year but this year we have heard of electricty prices rising by 18 per cent.”
He noted that food prices are also going up but that supermarket special offers for bulk buys are often of little help to many pensioners, who are only eating for one. Older people are saying that they are particularly fearful of passing groups of youths on street corners or in parks.
Around £9.5 million in pension tax credit is unclaimed every week, he says, mainly because OAPs find the forms intimidating and because they feel that means-testing “impacts on their dignity”.
For women that may have spent many years raising children and have not built up enough National Insurance contributions, this could bring their state pension up from £40 per week to £110 per week. Concerns over health and social care have been highlighted recently, he said, by controversial plans to close down state care homes across Northern Ireland, with the loss of almost 400 places.
Mr Lynch said: “But over the next 15 years there will be a 100 per cent increase in the number of older people over 75. People want to stay in their own homes as long as possible but don’t see extra money coming to provide the care packages.”
Politicians taking part include Jennifer McCann, David Ford, Nigel Dodds, Naomi Long and Michael Copeland.