The Ulster Unionist Party have responded to the High 5 Campaign questions. their detailed response is below;
1) Tackle Fuel Poverty
• What steps will the Ulster Unionist Party take to ensure that the collective effort of all Ministers and Departments in the NI Executive is focused on tackling fuel poverty?
Northern Ireland has the highest rate of fuel poverty in the United Kingdom; therefore it is obviously an area which Stromont urgently needs to address. There are three causes of fuel poverty- high fuel costs; low income; and poor energy efficiency. As these are areas which cross a number of Departmental remits the Ulster Unionist Party fundamentally believe that unless the issue is looked at in a collaborative manner then the Northern Ireland Executive will continue to fail to adequately address the problem. The UUP has proposed that immediately after the election, representatives from each Party should come together to agree a Programme for Government; within this we would seek to include the need for a cross party effort to tackle fuel poverty.
• How willl the Ulster Unionist Party support plans to introduce social tariffs to help protect vulnerable older people from soaring energy bills?
It is important to note that social tariffs in isolation will not eradicate fuel poverty. Not only that, but it would cost approximately £76m to provide a £300 payment to the significant number of households in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless there is a very strong argument that a form of social tariff, similar of which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom, would assist older people meet the growing pressures of fuel poverty.
2) Maximise Pensioner Income
• What will the Ulster Unionist Party do to make sure that the next Executive ensures that Pension Credit is paid automatically to those people who are entitled to it?
There are a number of strong arguments in favour of moving to a system of whereby Pension Credit is paid automatically. The most compelling advantage would be that in an instant it would greatly improve the capacity to raise awareness of entitlement. Not only that; an automatic system would be considerably more convenient for older people as it would take the onus of them to make a claim. Consequently the Ulster Unionist Party would be very open to further investigating the viability of moving to a more automated system of Pension Credit.
• Will the Ulster Unionist Party campaign to ensure that the NI Assembly commits to eliminating pensioner poverty by an agreed date?
Unfortunately pensioner poverty is on the increase in Northern Ireland. Whilst by no means is eliminating it going to be an easy or quick task, the Ulster Unionist Party remain convinced that if the Assembly place a realistic target date then there is little reason why we cannot meet it.
• What will the Ulster Unionist Party do to support programmes that increase older people’s employment options in later life?
We are confident that the recent appointment of an Older Peoples Commissioner will help to raise awareness of the options that are open to older people. Now when people are living for longer than ever before the Ulster Unionist Party appreciate that many people are wanting to work for longer than they did previously. Not only would older people continue to ensure Northern Ireland has a skilled and experienced workforce but it would also help to add to the future growth and sustainability of our economy.
3 Fundamentally Review Social Care
• How will the Ulster Unionist Party bring us closer to a fundamental review of social care provision?
Northern Ireland has a radically changing population, not only in terms of social need but also in regards to demography. Recent estimates available show there to be over 530,000 individuals aged 50 plus living in Northern Ireland; currently that accounts for just under one third of our entire population. In the next ten years the number of people aged 50 and over is anticipated to be in excess of 675,000; a 22% increase and over the next 30 years the figure is projected to increase by 37%. The statistics regarding our over 70’s are even more urgent; for the number in that age bracket is expected to increase by 31% in the next 10 years and by 74% in the next 20.
The Ulster Unionist Party has always strongly felt that enabling people to remain in their own homes in a positive step for both the person concerned but for also the public purse.
• What steps will the Ulster Unionist Party take to ensure that dignity, independence and choice will be at the heart of a new approach to social care?
The Ulster Unionist Party strongly supports enabling people to remain in their own homes as a positive step not only for the person concerned, but for also the public purse due to the fact that it costs £2,000 to keep someone in hospital for a week. Even now, care for our elderly is the Department of Health’s second biggest area of spend after hospital services. We strongly believe circumstances in which elderly people wish to continue living in their own homes should be fully supported.
The UUP have also been very supportive of domiciliary care as, not only is it much more cost effective than hospital care, but it promotes the independence, dignity and choice of older people which we believe should undoubtedly be at the centre of any system of social care
• Are the Ulster Unionist Party committed to preventing poor health of older people as well as treating it?
Now that the Northern Ireland healthcare system has been severely under funded for the next four years, it will become even more imperative that all cost cutting measure options are fully explored. Preventing ill health of older people is certainly an area which the Ulster Unionist Party would be keen to continue to make savings.
The Ulster Unionist Party believes that preventative measures are important in tackling poor health among older people. The UUP will also continue to promote cross-cutting initiatives that tackle social injustices, addressing lifestyle problems like obesity, smoking, substance and alcohol abuse-all issues which prevent poor health of older people.
4 End Age Discrimination
• How will the Ulster Unionist Party 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?
The Ulster Unionist Party recognise that age discrimination in any way, shape or form is completely unacceptable in the 21st Century. Currently section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act places a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their various functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote the equality of opportunity 'between persons of differing religious belief, political opinion, age, marital status or sexual orientation'.
As regards changing legislation in respect of older people we would be confident that the recently established Older Peoples Commissioner in Northern Ireland will ensure that there is a strong independent voice for older people.
5 Tackle Fear of Crime
• How does the Ulster Unionist Party plan to support older people to live free from fear of crime within their home and community?
The Ulster Unionist Party recognise that there can be a heightened fear of crime among older people and therefore when the circumstances are there we fully believe that police officers should be on the streets rather than working in the station. Therefore we are delighted that in recent times the PSNI has been successful in moving almost 700 officers out from behind desks to frontline duties. Neighbourhood Policing Teams also have an important role to play in regards to increasing the visibility of policing within communities.
• What steps will the uLster Unionist Party take to make sure that older people are a high priority group within the new Community Safety Strategy?
The new Community Safety Strategy was introduced by the Justice Minister David Ford in January 2011 and is currently going through its consultation period which finishes on 15th April. The Community Safety Strategy includes a section entitled 'shared communities' with the aim being that every person is safe to live free from threat or intimidation; this is extremely relevant for older people. During the next Assembly this strategy will progress through its Committee Stage in the Justice Committee and we can make a commitment that the Ulster Unionist Party representatives will ensure that the concerns of older people are appropriately heard throughout that process.