COLERAINE Skerries Council candidate Barney Fitzpatrick has said achieving a better standard of living for pensioners is a main priority for the Alliance Party.
Mr Fitzpatrick said that many pensioners liked to maintain a high degree of independence in their daily lives.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Increases in the annual rates, unfair increases in water charges, the high cost of living in Northern Ireland compared to Great Britain and more expensive heating and oil will ensure that the real value of the present paltry pension will soon be worth even less.
“The reality is that these increases in bills, rates and fuel costs mean older people are often forced to make drastic cutbacks on the necessities.
“The allowance is being constantly chipped away, and Alliance feels that the time has come to put pensioners at the top of the political agenda. After a lifetime of contributing to society, older people deserve a better deal.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said that because other parties had failed to provide the leadership necessary to keep the Assembly going, it meant local councillors had an added responsibility to represent the electorate.
“Without an Assembly, MLAs have less direct influence over decision-making. But serving councillors and MPs have a close connection to their electorate, and are aware that pensioners are getting a raw deal.
“Alliance’s Westminster candidate for East Londonderry, Yvonne Boyle, is very aware of this, and Alliance will both lobby Parliament for the provision of adequate pensions and push the UK Exchequer to re-establish the link between the state pension and average earnings. This is the fairest means of ensuring long-term confidence in its value.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said Northern Ireland’s elderly population needed the help of politicians, not just at election time but everyday.
“Alliance wants to tackle poverty amongst this section of society and ensure that a citizen’s older years are not a time of stress and worries about money. We must ensure that all pensioners have an adequate standard of living, and a guarantee of proper and fully funded care. No-one should be forced to sell their home to pay for care.
“Over the course of recent Governments, the real value of pensions has fallen considerably. People now require an immediate substantial boost to their incomes. Alliance will work to ensure that falling rate of pensions does not occur again.
“We also wish to end means-testing for pensioners. Many refuse to take up some benefits because it offends their sense of dignity to be subjected to such scrutiny. They have worked hard all their lives and do not want to be made to feel they are ‘scrounging’ off the State. We can target the most needy and poorest people in society without having to resort to the degrading procedure of means tests.”
· Remove means testing for pensions and old-age benefits. Alliance will establish an independent Pension Authority to set future pension levels and prevent the kind of deterioration that has recently occurred. This linking should increase the basic pension so that the means testing of the top up minimum income guarantee is no longer needed.
· Extend the entitlement to the basic state pension to all citizens. This measure will guarantee minimum standards of income and provide a basic income for many who have had interrupted work careers such as women, carers, and the long-term disabled.
· Introduce free personal care for the elderly. Alliance believes that personal care for the elderly should be provided as a matter of need and paid for out of general taxation. Alliance will work to ensure that personal care is made freely available to all those who need it allowing more of our elderly to live comfortable and more dignified lives. Alliance is the ONLY party that voted for free personal care for the elderly in the Assembly consistently. Every other party has voted against it, despite their promises to pensioners.
· Maintain current benefits. Alliance is committed to extending benefits to a larger range of older people. These include the winter fuel payment, the free television license, and free public transportation on the island of Ireland.