Speaking From Experience
In his address to the Club Monday 18 February Guest speaker Eamonn Donaghy CEO, Age Sector Platform advised that it represents a strong unified voice for older people in Northern Ireland and is the charity responsible for the NI Pensioners Parliament. Launched in 2008 with individual and group members it represents over 200,000 older people in NI. He advised that their key strength is that they are driven by older people and the Trustees are all over 70 and believe in the rights of independence and participation and that our older years should not be ones of stagnation or decline. He revealed the 4 words rights – dignity – equality and participation encapsulates their ethos. Their principal project since 2012 has been the annual NI Pensioners Parliament which, over two days in Belfast, allows 180-200 delegates from across NI to have their say on the issues that matter to them. During the year opinions are gathered from focus groups and surveys and they operate 5 committees – health, fear of crime, transport, energy and Westminster and take issues up with MPs. They also run every 2 years local Parliaments in each Council area which facilitates older people’s participation in more rural areas.
He highlighted some disturbing NI statistics 1 in 5 older people live in poverty and 3 in 5 households live in fuel poverty (defined as spending more than 10% of income on energy) which is the highest level in UK. Winter deaths have increased by 130% and there are 7,000 crimes against older people – a major concern. He revealed in a 2018 survey of 900 older people ⅓rd cut back on essentials to stay warm, over ½ were more fearful of crime, feel lonely each week and for ⅔rds access to top health and social care is a no. 1 priority. He emphasised that there is a divergence with GB where there is a warm home discount scheme and £140 energy bill discount. Also age discrimination legislation doesn’t apply in NI.
He concluded by noting that their success is that older people have more knowledge of their rights are more aware of issues and challenges, more comfortable in expressing views and more willing to be involved in their own communities. Practically, following lobbying Government has retained the triple pensions lock and the winter fuel allowance and he stressed the necessity of the bus pass as a key to mobility and the TV licence to reduce isolation.