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Author: Age NI
Published on 22 April 2011 12:00 AM

Independent candidate for East Belfast, Dawn Purvis, has written to the High 5 Campaign to express her support.

Dawn Purvis stated, "I think it’s an excellent initiative and the issues it highlights are critical not just for older people, but for many sectors of Northern Ireland society.

As an Independent MLA, I am in a unique position to hold the Northern Ireland Executive to account on a number of the issues raised in the High 5 campaign.  I hope to have that opportunity in the next Assembly."

She went on to detail a response to each of the High 5 issues as follows:

1) Tackle Fuel Poverty

"Fuel poverty is a major issue in Northern Ireland, and could potentially become more acute as fuel prices continue to rise and inflation places additional stresses on household budgets.  Both will be particularly felt by those on limited incomes.

In the last Assembly session, I looked at finding ways to introduce social tariffs to stabilise and reduce the costs of a variety of household utilities for low income residents, including home heating. 

Because of the small size of the household utility market in Northern Ireland, as well as the relatively low level of competition and the manner in which energy companies are regulated, it was difficult to identify a pre-existing model for social tariffs that could easily be applied here.  The large proportion of households living in fuel poverty adds a further challenge as there are fewer consumers in a position to pay into a social tariff scheme.

This does not mean social tariffs will not work; rather, this means that we will have to come up with a unique and creative model to fit the situation in Northern Ireland.  If returned to the Assembly, I intend to continue my own investigation into what this might look like and will certainly work with other Assembly members who are doing the same.

As an independent MLA essentially in opposition, I am in a unique position to hold the Executive to account on this issue and press Ministers and government departments to make the eradication of fuel poverty an immediate priority.

Fuel poverty has always been a priority for me in my work as an MLA, and I will continue to push forward on this issue, particularly as the Assembly moves into detailed discussions of how the budget will be applied."

2) Maximise Pensioner Income

"I anticipate that the findings of the pilot scheme in England, which is conducting a trial run of automatic payment of Pension Credit, will be largely positive.  I will work with other Assembly members to push the coalition government to expand this process to Northern Ireland and will lobby the Executive to pursue this as a priority.

Proposals to move to a universal pension credit sound good on the surface but more analysis is needed.  It’s unclear whether it would in fact be truly universal, or whether pension credit would remain a passport benefit.

Issues of poverty are likely to be key in the upcoming Assembly session and I will continue to advocate for all measures to relieve poverty among older people, and will certainly press the Executive to establish clear dates and deadlines for eliminating poverty among older people. 

The lack of clear strategies for tackling poverty, including firm deadlines and an agreed means to measure levels of poverty – so that we know we are making progress in eradicating deprivation – were challenges in the last Assembly as we sought to implement the Child Poverty Act.  I am hoping there have been lessons from that experience that will make acting to address poverty among older people a more genuine and efficient effort.

In terms of employment, I support ending the default retirement age, as well as encouraging employers to offer flexible working patterns and a continuing focus on training for older workers."

3) Fundamentally Review Social Care

"In the last Assembly, I was the only MLA outside the Health Minister’s party who voted to protect the Health and Social Care budget from cuts.

I fully support Age NI’s call for a review of social care, and for a fundamental refocus towards prevention in the way in which health and social services are planned and commissioned.  I also agree that our social care system should provide quality care when it is needed, based on dignity, equality and human rights principles.

I have raised these issues on a number of occasions in the previous Assembly during debates on social and health care, as well as when working on behalf of individual constituents who were having unacceptably poor experiences with health and social services.  I would certainly continue to do the same in the next Assembly."

4) End Age Discrimination

"Since its introduction, I have supported the inclusion of age as a category in the Equality Act so that individuals could not suffer discrimination based on age.  I will continue to work to achieve this.

It is completely unacceptable that an individual can be treated differently or suffer discrimination in our society simply because of their age."

5) Tackle Fear of Crime

"As the briefing paper describes well, perceptions of high levels of crime against older people is an issue which lies largely with the media.  Public opinion surveys suggest that people believe levels of crime against older people are much higher than what is actually happening on the ground.

In the previous Assembly as Chair of the All Party Group on Children and Young People, I did a lot of work on the flip side of this issue, i.e., the perception that young people are often the perpetrators of crime against older people, as well other anti-social behaviours.  I will continue to work on this if returned to the Assembly, helping to tear down misperceptions that create concern and fear among our older people and label our young people as thugs.

I will certainly do all I can in my engagements with the Department of Justice to ensure that older people are a high priority group within the new Community Safety Strategy, so that older people can feel safe in their own homes and communities.  Older people have so much to offer our society and they deserve the support they need to make this contribution, starting with safety at home and freedom to live without fear."

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575