Older people make their voices heard at Parliament

Anne Watson from Newtownabbey Senior Citizens' Forum asks a question at the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament.
Anne Watson from Newtownabbey Senior Citizens' Forum asks a question at the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament.

REPRESENTATIVES from Newtownabbey Senior Citizens’ Forum (NSCF) were among more than 200 older people from across the province who gathered in Belfast recently for the 2012 Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament.

The two-day event, organised by Age Sector Platform, saw the Holiday Inn Hotel turned into a hub for democratic decision making as Members of the Pensioners Parliament (MPPs) asked questions and voted on issues such as the rising cost of living, fear of crime, health and social care, transport and pensions. In total, 33 motions were passed - receiving more than two thirds support from MPPs.

The issues that prompted the most passionate debates were those focused on pension reform, welfare reform and the Compton health review. The debate and voting on these issues, along with others, will provide Age Sector Platform with an added means through which to campaign on behalf of older people across Northern Ireland.

Newtownabbey woman Anne Watson, who attended the Parliament along with NSCF Chairperson Betty Gillespie and several other members of the Forum, said the event had been “excellent”, providing a lot of useful information about health and welfare reform, pensions and other important issues.

Commenting on the Compton Report - the latest review of health and social care services across Northern Ireland - Mrs Watson warned that the planned move away from residential care to providing more care for older people in their own homes would require “an army of carers” and questioned how local Health Trusts would be able to pay for such services.

Stressing that there will always be a need for residential care homes, she commented: “From an older person’s perspective the Compton Report leaves a lot to be desired and I think it needs to be looked at in more detail.

“They (the Health Trusts) need to take on an older people’s group like Age Sector Platform to advise them. They need to consult with the people who are actually going to be affected by the changes.”

Mrs Watson, who is a member of Age Sector Platform, said that the Pensioners Parliament is also calling on the Government to make changes to the Old Age Pension.

“The pension is only £107 a week at the minute and it needs to be brought up to a proper rate. It should be about £170 a week so that older people aren’t having to go cap in hand looking for benefits,” she added.

In the coming months, a report on all the decisions taken at the Pensioners Parliament will be drafted and distributed to the Northern Ireland Assembly, MLAs, MPs, Councils, statutory bodies, the private sector and other relevant organisations.

Michael Monaghan from Age Sector Platform commented: “We as older people must ensure that our voice is heard, not only by the Northern Ireland Assembly on these issues, but also Westminster and Europe. As a large and growing section of the population, our voice is only going to become stronger and more important over the coming years; and older people have much to contribute. Our experience and knowledge can really help assist policy and decision makers in the years to come.”

For more information about the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament log on to www.pensionersparliament.org or telephone 028 9031 2089.