Mr Humphrey asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the marking of 2012 as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. (AQO 1518/11-15)
Mr M McGuinness (The deputy First Minister): Mr Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I will ask junior Minister Anderson to answer the question.
Ms M Anderson (Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. We will mark the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations by bringing forward a range of measures, including the possibility of a small grants scheme, proposals for legislation to help to tackle age discrimination and a revised older people’s strategy. That will improve older people’s quality of life and help to tackle the inequalities that they face.
In May, we will consult on our revised older people’s strategy, and, in the autumn, we will consult on the legislation to outlaw discrimination on the ground of age in the provisions of goods, facilities and services. We will take account of the views of the Commissioner for Older People and the Older People’s Advisory Panel in developing our proposals, and our consultation will be specifically designed to facilitate older people’s participation. The Member was on the OFMDFM Committee when we consulted with older people on the establishment of a commissioner. They are a very active lobby group.
As I mentioned, we are considering the establishment of a small grants scheme for protection to promote active ageing and solidarity between generations. To promote solidarity between generations, we will look across our children and our older people’s responsibility to promote opportunities for people of different generations to learn together and to share experiences. Of course, the views of the Equality Commission, the Commissioner for Older People, the Older People’s Advisory Panel, the Children’s Commissioner and the third sector will be taken into account in developing a programme of events that will showcase the principles of the year, including an event to mark older people’s day in October.
Mr Humphrey: I thank the junior Minister for her answer. The junior Minister is right: there is a very effective lobby from older persons in our community. I work closely with the greater Shankill and north Belfast groups. Does the junior Minister agree that the work done by churches and faith-based organisations across Northern Ireland is invaluable in getting young people and senior citizens together, in bridging that age gap and in building the shared future we want for all people in Northern Ireland?
Ms M Anderson: A number of groups and organisations, including the two that you referred to, are very active, particularly around the revised older people’s strategy and the development of the UN principles for older people. I am aware that you work closely with such groups, so you will know that they relate to independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity. All that is drafted to reflect our society. Society will improve, and, without doubt, the strategy will improve life for older people here, with the involvement of all the people who advocate on their behalf, older people themselves and those who care for them.
Ms Ruane: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra a thug sí dúinn. I thank the junior Minister for her answers this far. Will she give an assurance that, if we extend legislation to end discrimination on the basis of age to goods, facilities and services, the current differential treatment, which is beneficial, will not be lost?
Ms M Anderson: That is a very important question. In extending the legislation, we aim to end discrimination on the basis of age or perceived age, which is unjustifiable and, therefore, unfair. We do not intend to end differential treatments that are beneficial and can be objectively justified, such as concessionary fares for older people and for younger people. We will think very carefully about the scope for and the content of exceptions to anti-discrimination measures in our legislation to make sure that we do not overlook any beneficial practices that should continue. We will subject our proposals to full public consultation that includes older people, older people’s representatives and people who care for older people.
Mr Eastwood: Does the junior Minister support the recent kite flying by the Minister for Social Development around the potential removal of the free travel scheme for pensioners?
Ms M Anderson: The Executive have already put out a position with regard to whether that would be removed or not. Jonathan Bell, the other junior Minister, and I work closely with the older people’s sector. We have been engaging with the sector on a number of matters. One of the events that we attended was a dinner at which we found that people, particularly those in the higher echelons of society and on very high wages, said that they would like to make a contribution. However, I think that the Executive have been very clear that such concessions should be given to older people and will not be removed.