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Pensioners gather to say 'Hands Off' our benefits

Michael Monaghan

Pensioners from across Northern Ireland are expected to gather in Belfast's Cornmarket area at 1pm this afternoon to make their voice heard on the need for universal benefits such as the bus pass and winter fuel payment.

The rally, which has been organised by Age Sector Platform to coincide with Older People’s Day, is part of a UK-wide day of action in support of the ‘Hands Off’ campaign. With the aim of defending the need for universal pensioner benefits in the lead up to the general election next year, the campaign has already been supported by over 70,000 people across the UK.

Michael Monaghan from Age Sector Platform commented: “In recent months, it has been extremely worrying to see Stormont Ministers casually threatening benefits like the bus pass and free prescriptions, whilst political parties and think tanks in Britain continue to question whether pensioners ‘deserve’ their winter fuel payment and free TV licence. Today is our opportunity to show how passionately we feel about the value of these benefits. We must ensure they are protected for pensioners now and in the future.”

“Providing pensioners with a winter fuel payment and those over 75 with a free TV licence makes up just two per cent of the total benefit expenditure at Westminster; yet these benefits are being used by many to illustrate the supposed greed of pensioners. These accusations do not take into account their value for money in preventing ill-health and isolation, nor do they acknowledge the merit of a system that lacks the cost of means-testing.”

“The bus pass is one of the most valued schemes provided to older people in Northern Ireland. It enables older people to do essential shopping, maintain social networks, attend health appointments, and keep physically active. Without it, my generation would simply be unable to remain as healthy and independent. DRD Minister Danny Kennedy’s recent comments about threats to funding for the scheme must be taken seriously, and our politicians must continue to stand united in supporting the need for the scheme.”

“As we get older, we require more medicines than most to maintain a good quality of life. If prescription charges were introduced, it would undoubtedly result in older people doing without their medication in order to pay for heat and food. In the UK, forty five per cent of prescriptions are dispensed to patients over the age of 65; so it’s clear any charge introduced could have a disproportionate impact on pensioners. Former Health Minister Edwin Poots recently floated the idea of an annual charge for prescriptions, and we must ensure that older people are exempt from any such charge.”

“At the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament earlier this year, two motions were passed calling for the protection of universal pensioner benefits with an overwhelming majority of 99 per cent. This shows how much these benefits are valued by older people in Northern Ireland, and we must ensure they remain for years to come.”

Age Sector Platform is leading the ‘Hands Off’ campaign in Northern Ireland, and has already collected over 10,000 signatures through the paper petition. Those who wish to support the campaign should visit www.handsoff.org.uk to download the petition, or call 028 9031 2089 to request a batch.