The Social Democrat and Labour Party have responded with support for Age NI and Age Sector Platform's High 5 Campaign today. Their detailed response is below.
Tackling Fuel Poverty
What steps will you take to ensure that the collective effort of ALL Ministers and Departments in the NI Executive is focused on tackling fuel poverty?
There is still a huge task ahead in tackling fuel poverty. The SDLP will make sure it is a priority for the incoming Executive and that our overall economic plan is focused on taking more people out of the low income trap.
We will ensure the Executive commits to supporting the Housing and Enterprise Ministers in the delivery of a major new programme of home insulation which will not only alleviate fuel poverty but will create thousands of jobs in the construction sector.
We will encourage the incoming Housing Minister to continue the Warm Homes Scheme which has delivered over 40,000 home improvements taking thousands of households out of fuel poverty.
We will ensure a continued increase in the budget for fuel poverty interventions as has been the case under the stewardship of the SDLP and ensure the work of the Fuel Poverty Task Force established by Margaret Ritchie continues to bring fuel poverty to the top of the public policy agenda.
Finally, we will ensure the comprehensive Fuel Poverty Strategy which including innovative energy brokering initiatives and a boiler scrappage scheme is implemented.
How will you support plans to introduce social tariffs to help protect vulnerable older people from soaring energy bills?
The 2010 SDLP Westminster Manifesto outlined our ongoing commitment to the introduction of social tariffs on energy provision for older and disabled people in order to raise those on low incomes out of the poverty trap, and the totally unacceptable position of having to choose between heating their home or eating.
We will work with the new Executive to ensure the implementation of the Department of Social Development Fuel Poverty Strategy published by SDLP Minister Alex Attwood which includes a commitment fully explore options for the introduction of social tariffs.
Maximizing Pensioner Income
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?
The SDLP 2010 Westminster Manifesto committed to “ensuring the automatic payment of benefits” and we will continue to lobby the London Government to institute this practice. Additionally we will encourage the incoming DSD Minister to continue the benefit uptake initiatives introduced by SDLP Ministers.
Will you campaign to ensure that the NI Assembly commits to eliminating pensioner poverty by an agreed date?
The SDLP are absolutely committed to eradicating pensioner poverty and our work in the Department of Social Development in tackling fuel poverty and opposing detrimental Westminster changes to the benefit system demonstrate this. We are focused on fulfilling the commitments in our 2010 Westminster Manifesto to enable older people to remain in employment if they so wish and campaign for the immediate restoration of the earnings link for state pensions and insisted that a special hardship fund be included in the budget for those whose benefits are being negatively affected by Westminster actions.
What will you do to support programmes that increase older people’s employment options in later life?
We in the SDLP believe older people’s independence must be respected, along with protecting their individual rights. People are living longer today than ever before and our standard of health is higher than ever. In this way to show respect to our older people we believe, if they so wish to, they should be allowed work beyond the age of 65. Our 2010 Westminster Manifesto states we will “show respect to our older generations by putting an end to upper age limits for work and insurance.”
We are also committed to ensuring access for all to high-quality essential skills courses and Lifelong learning opportunities to provide people the skills they need to find employment.
Fundamentally Review Social Care
How will you bring us closer to a fundamental review of social care provision?
We are committed to enhancing the provision of care for older people and have plans for a programme of change for our health service and social care service.
The SDLP is the only party to have seriously assessed opportunities for improved care and financial savings within the Health Service. Long-term planning is essential if we are to enable older people to continue contributing to society and retain their independence, dignity and quality of life.
We will work with the voluntary, independent and statutory sectors providing domiciliary care, as well as those in receipt of care, to develop an Executive-led approach which centres on the care-user, ensures all care providers are fully registered and receive the training they need, while providing best value for money.
What steps will you take to ensure that dignity, independence and choice will be at the heart of a new approach to social care?
We believe all older people should be treated with respect and dignity. In this way, in the next Assembly we will tackle the lack of appropriate independent and supported living opportunities for older people. We will also continue to demand a full-time Commissioner for older people, to make sure their voice is heard and they are involved in all policy-making decisions in this area.
We plan to introduce a dementia awareness campaign as a key part of the dementia strategy’s implementation. This will enhance public understanding of dementia and inform people of how they can reduce their risk of developing it, as well as encouraging early diagnosis through symptom recognition.
Are you committed to preventing poor health of older people as well as treating it?
Yes, we believe prevention is the most important aspect of any action plan. In the next mandate, the SDLP will improve our Health Service by focusing more on primary prevention and taking greater action on preventative health - keeping people out of hospitals for longer.
We will create an Executive programme fund to kick start a long-term, cross-departmental preventative health strategy. Currently a mere 1.6% of the health budget is spent on health improvement, health protection and the social wellbeing of people in this region. By 2015, we aim to have increased this to 4% of the total health budget - a figure closer to EU and OECD averages - with a view to negotiating a further phased increase by 2020.
End Age Discrimination
How will you ensure that legislation is introduced to outlaw age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services such as car or travel insurance and healthcare?
Age is the only equality ground that is not afforded legal protection from discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, making it difficult for older people to access car and travel insurance, financial and other services.
To help address the inequalities felt by older people, the Commissioner for Older People must receive the necessary resources to be established and function effectively. The Single Equality Bill which was before the Assembly in the last mandate was meant to change this and combat all types of age discrimination we will continue to push for its finalization in the next Assembly, making sure older people’s rights are completely protected.
We will publish legislation to end age discrimination on the basis of goods, facilities and services, and develop a renewed older person’s strategy, containing clear targets and an implementation plan and with the participation of older people themselves.
Tackle Fear of Crime
How do you plan to support older people to live free from fear of crime within their home and community?
Any instance of crime is unacceptable, but especially when it is targeted at an older person. In order to combat these types of attacks, we need a greater police presence to deter crime and catch those who are responsible.
The SDLP have a strong record of pushing for adequate resources for frontline policing, especially in rural areas. We are committed to ensuring penalties fit the crime by stiffening sentencing for violent crime and making deep reforms to protect victims, including requiring the Public Prosecution Service to give the public and families reasons why charges are dropped, or reduced.
State-led restorative justice has a significant role to play in bringing together victims of crime and offenders, in order to encourage the offenders to confront the reality of their crimes and make amends. Youth conferencing in Northern Ireland is now an internationally recognised exemplar of restorative justice.
What steps will you take to make sure that older people are a high priority group within the new Community Safety Strategy?
The SDLP have a strong track record of both supporting and holding the PSNI to account. In our work on the Policing Board and in scrutinizing the Justice Minister in the Assembly we will fight to ensure the needs of older people are a high priority. We will work to ensure safer ageing for our population and will promote the needs of older people within the Community Safety Strategy.