Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin Charter for Senior Citizens

30 October, 2003


Foreword

In just 18 years, one in four Europeans will be aged 60 or over. In Ireland by the year 2020, more than half the population will be aged 60 plus. Changing lifestyles, nutrition and education have all contributed to a lifespan which is well beyond 'three score and ten'.

One of the more positive aspects of this is the valuable contribution senior citizens have made and continue to make to the creation of a more just and equitable society.

The aged are no longer willing to be marginalised, or treated as less than equal citizens. They are on the move through organisations such as Age Concern, Aging Well and Help the Aged.

Campaigns by these organisations have moved the issues affecting senior citizens, from the periphery to the centre of the political debate.

They have recognised that negative attitudes to aging, across the island, have prevented the development of policies and structures, needed to address poverty, ill health, isolation and violent attacks.

It is an indictment of government policies that more than 1,300 senior citizens die each year from cold related illness and thousands more suffer from the indifference of a cold society. It is time we brought our senior citizens in from the cold.

In putting forward our Charter for Senior Citizens, Sinn Féin pledges that we will support and actively pursue the political and legislative changes necessary to establish a decent standard of living, full access to services and the right of senior citizens to fully participate in the life of their community.

Mary Nelis

Introduction

Sinn Féin believes that people have the right to social, economic, gender and cultural equality. This encompasses equality for all regardless of race, age, marital or family status, sexual orientation, physical or mental capabilities, ethnicity, social origin or political or religious affiliation.

Creating the conditions for establishing an equal society means recognising that many diverse groups need enhanced protection from the state. Ireland and Irish society is the sum of all of its parts and there is no rationale for excluding any group.

Between April and July this year there were at least 420 attacks on senior citizens in the Six Counties. More than 1,300 pensioners died last year as a result of the cold. This figure should send shock waves throughout our society - 1,300 pensioners dying because they cannot keep themselves warm. If this number of people died on our roads it would be front-page news in every paper, in every news programme, every day. But it wasn't. We need to address these issues and more if we are to properly address the rights and entitlements of senior citizens.

Sinn Féin main recommendations

  • Commissioner for Senior Citizens
  • Fundamental review of the standard of living of senior citizens, including pension provision, cost of living, fuel poverty and disposable income
  • Removal of discriminatory policy in respect of the sale of bungalows to people over sixty years old.
  • All new public housing to be designed to meet life-long needs
  • Year on year targets to eliminate unnecessary deaths from cold
  • Simplify and streamline the system of application for grants for adaptation work for access to basic amenities in the home
  • Design of streets and roads should ensure a safe environment for senior citizens
  • Introduction of free personal care
  • An adequate level of nursing care in residential accommodation
  • Fair access to health care for senior citizens based on clinical need
  • Extension of resources available for home security provided through Health and Social Services.
  • More resources for community based initiatives that promote social inclusion e.g. wider roll out of initiatives such as Good Morning Galliagh and Good Morning Colin.
  • Free telephone line rental, free TV licences and examination of potential of free Internet access
  • Free public transport across the island of Ireland

A Charter for Senior Citizens

Equality

Our senior citizens have made a lifetime contribution to our society through their taxes, rates, national insurance contributions and voluntary work in their communities. We are calling for a fundamental review to examine whether the standard of living provided for our senior citizens meets their needs and reflects the contribution they have made. Society must question how governments, who have benefited from these contributions, have used them.

Poverty should have no place in our society yet the incomes of many senior citizens are falling radically behind that of the community as a whole. Our senior citizens, who have often been forced to retire, are living on inadequate pensions and struggling with spiralling costs of living. They also have to battle against society‚s attitudes towards those marginalised, particularly as a result of low income.

It is vital that mechanisms are developed to properly value and recognise the lifelong contribution of our senior citizens to society as a whole and to social cohesion through decades of conflict including their work in the voluntary and community sectors, in providing wisdom and experience within the workplace and as unpaid carers within the family releasing parents into education and the workforce.

Social Inclusion

Making resources available to improve security in the homes of senior citizens improves both safety and the sense of security. However, such measures only deal with the symptoms they are not a cure for the problem of increasing attacks on the elderly. Turning homes into fortresses is not a long-term solution to the problem of isolation, alienation or vulnerability. Resources and actions need to be targeted to support communities in challenging the violence of those who target our senior citizens and we need to support senior citizens in realising their vital role in our communities - we are all the losers without their contribution.

Community based initiatives such as Good Morning Galliagh in Derry and Good Morning Colin in Belfast where registered senior citizens are contacted every morning by phone volunteers - often young people - to see if they need anything e.g. fuel, shopping, prescriptions, demonstrate that there are ways to combat social exclusion. Access to communications through the availability of free telephone line rental could support such initiatives and also play an important role in supporting the right to feel safe.

A coordinated practical plan to encourage senior citizens to lead an active life needs to be a central element in combating social exclusion.

The provision of free TV licences and free access to the Internet should also be examined. The provision, as of right, of free access should not be bounded by artificial age differentials.

Increasingly sheltered accommodation and complexes for senior citizens are clustered away from the wider community creating isolation and difficulties in full participation in our communities. This isolation, especially in rural areas, also helps foster vulnerability or a sense of vulnerability. We need to see a better mix in new build public housing developments to include bungalow accommodation, the design of new public housing embracing the concept of life-long living and the design of street lighting and roads to ensure a safer environment. The discrimination in the sale of bungalow accommodation to those over 60 should be abolished.

Education

The education system must have mechanisms for young people to recognise at an early stage the value and experience of senior citizens who should have a meaningful role in our education system beyond visiting schools to share memories from their past, although this may contribute to the development a new citizenship programme. Legislators and education providers should ensure that the concept of lifelong learning becomes a reality.

Transport

Senior citizens are more at risk of suffering from social isolation. It is essential that they have access to transport. They are major users of public transport, many do not have access to a car. The planning of all aspects of transportation should ensure that barriers to accessing services, employment and volunteering, educational, recreational and social opportunities are removed. This should include the extension of free public transport across the island of Ireland, an examination of the role of community based transport initiatives such as the black taxi models operating in Belfast and Derry and an evaluation of the coverage of public transport and supported transport provided within rural communities. All public transport should be accessible and senior citizens throughout Ireland should access to free public transport.

A voice in decision-making

Senior Citizens should be consulted in decision making at all levels of government A Commissioner for Senior Citizens - similar to the newly appointed Commissioner for Children and Young People - would provide an important mechanism for challenging and reviewing policy and decision making and would give a focused role in decision making and articulating the demands and rights of senior citizens.

However, ministerial responsibility that specifically deals with the rights and entitlements of the senior citizens - that drives strategy and decision-making and can take action across all departments must put the rights of the senior citizen at the heart of Executive decision making. It would also create a mechanism for direct democratic responsibility and accountability. A cross-departmental working group can effectively deal with the many crosscutting issues that affect our senior citizens.

Access to rights and entitlements

Supporting and resourcing the Independent Advice Centre network is vital to ensuring that senior citizens can obtain assistance regarding all the benefits that they are entitled to easily and with dignity.

A fundamental review of the operation of all benefit entitlement and the applications process, the right to buy Housing Executive properties, disability adaptation of homes, means testing, the notional income rule is a vital component in addressing the rights of senior citizens to equality.

The lack of information and complicated application forms has resulted in hundreds of millions of unclaimed benefits to which senior citizens are entitled. Why are millions of pounds of unclaimed benefit not re-directed towards the 5% of senior citizens who require higher levels of care (rather than forcing them to sell off their homes) and to implement plans that will be of direct benefit. The benefits system should be simplified and made more user friendly.

New legislation on age discrimination resulting from the EU directive on equal treatment that will come into force by 2006 must also address the right of senior citizens to claim for unfair dismissal and the current barrier to redundancy payment on the grounds of eligibility for a state pension.

Service Provision

Many of the issues that must be addressed in promoting social inclusion are related to the provision of quality services and to accessing quality services. However, equal access has to be given to senior citizens in all areas of life. Facilities must be provided to encourage the use of banks, post offices, all health facilities and all public offices, bus stops and railway stations, including more seating and better lighting. Access to services and facilities must be improved, pedestrian crossings should allow a longer time for crossing and improvements in maintenance of pavements should be prioritised including, when necessary, the clearing of ice and snow. The extension of 20mph speed limits in residential areas may also contribute to safety.

The provision of quality services includes indirect services such as research. More money invested in research into the prevention and cure of Alzheimer's and dementia could both create substantial savings in the cost of caring for sufferers and relieve huge levels of trauma faced by senior citizens, their partners, families and friends.

Discrimination in the all health services available to those over 65 needs to be tackled.

This means an adequate level of nursing care in residential accommodation and a wider review of services for those with head trauma, including strokes and accidents with the objective of removing discrimination in the services available to those over 65 years with head trauma.

The introduction of free personal care for all senior citizens is essential. The refusal on the part of central government to provide free personal care has very serious implications for people who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer's because dementia may not be classified as a health need, leading to the denial of access to the care required.

The needs of carers must be addressed and funding must be made available for appropriate support, including day care provision, respite care and domestic aids.

Sinn Féin's Charter for Senior Citizens

A voice in government

  • Appointment of a Commissioner for Senior Citizens.
  • Specific Ministerial responsibility for senior citizens and a cross-departmental working group on issues affecting senior citizens.

Standard of Living

  • Fundamental review of the standard of living of senior citizens, including pension provision, cost of living, fuel poverty and disposable income.
  • Review of entitlement to benefits including removal of notional income leading to loss of family home, simplification of application forms and the removal of means testing of benefits for pensioners in areas designated as TSN. Removal of means testing of resources in terms of Housing Benefit, in respect of disability adaptation of homes and disability means testing should only be applied to the disabled person.
  • Support and resources for Independent Advice Centres.
  • Greater support and recognition of the value of volunteering.
  • Greater support for businesses employing senior citizens.
  • Right to claim unfair dismissal and redundancy as part of significant protection and promotion of rights of the senior citizens arising from the EU directive on age discrimination.

Housing and quality of life

  • Removal of discriminatory policy in relation to the sale of bungalows to people over sixty years old.
  • All new public housing to be designed to meet life-long needs (embracing the concept of life-long living).
  • Make installation of energy efficient heating systems compulsory in all new homes. Ensure Housing Executive and Housing Associations optimise the insulation of their existing housing stock.
  • Year on year targets to eliminate unnecessary deaths from cold.
  • Increase resources for improvement grant schemes to ensure that the problem of unfit housing can be tackled.
  • Simplify and streamline the system of application for grants for adaptation work for access to basic amenities in the home.
  • A better mix in new build public housing developments to include bungalow accommodation.

Building a safer environment

  • Design of streets and roads should ensure a safe environment for senior citizens including increasing time for crossing at pedestrian crossings, improvements in maintenance of pavements, where necessary clearing of ice and snow, extension of 20mph speed limits in residential areas, more seating and better lighting in bus stops. Better lighting on streets. More seating on streets. Ensuring that street furniture is not hazardous for the visually impaired. Banning of freestanding advertising on pavements.
  • The Department of Environment should facilitate and fund Neighbourhood Watch Projects.
  • Planners should consider the needs of the elderly in considering any changes to neighbourhoods.
  • Legislation should be introduced to protect residential communities.

Quality of life and health care

  • Targeted research into illnesses such as Alzheimer's.
  • An adequate level of nursing care in residential accommodation
  • Introduction of free personal care for all senior citizens
  • Fair access to health care for senior citizens based on clinical need.
  • Involvement of older people in health care planning and the evaluation of the delivery of care.
  • Challenge both direct and indirect discrimination against older people in the health service.
  • Reduce inequalities of health amongst older people.
  • Review of services for those with head trauma, including strokes and accidents including removal of discrimination in the services available to those over 65 years with head trauma.
  • As part of wider support for the caring community specific recognition of the contribution of senior citizens as carers of partners and family members including an examination of respite care provision.
  • Extension of resources available for home security provided through Health and Social Services.

Promoting social inclusion

  • Co-ordinated Active Life senior citizen programme.
  • More resources for community based initiatives that promote social inclusion e.g. wider roll out of initiatives such as Good Morning Galliagh and Good Morning Colin.
  • Greater support for targeted outreach programmes
  • Free telephone line rental, free TV licences and examination of potential of free Internet access.
  • Co-ordinated involvement in our schools
  • Resources to support access to public buildings.
  • More access to mobile libraries.
  • Removal of age barrier in accessing life long learning.
  • Free public transport across the island of Ireland
  • Review of access to transport, particularly in rural areas

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