Belfast Telegraph

Commissioner for elderly planned

A move to create an older person's commissioner in Northern Ireland has passed its final hurdle at the Assembly.

The post is expected to be filled early next year.

Dame Joan Harbinson has been working as an advocate for the elderly for the last two years.

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister junior minister Gerry Kelly said: "By bringing forward this legislation and establishing a Commissioner for Older People now, we are taking a strategic and long-term view of the issues of an ageing population to ensure that there is a dedicated focal point for older people and that older people here have the strong independent voice and protection that they deserve."

The most recent figures show 28% of pensioners live in poverty and half suffer from fuel poverty. A 2007-08 report stated that 62% of older people aged between 65 and 74 reported having a long-standing illness. For those aged 75 and older, the percentage increased to 67% for men and 72% for women.

By 2041, 42% of the population will be aged 50 or over, persons of pensionable age will represent 25% of the population, and those aged 75 and over will double to at least 14%.

Mr Kelly added: "Given these facts and projections and the absence of a body with a specific focus on the interests and rights of older people, we are determined to proceed with the appointment of the Commissioner. We are determined also to provide the Commissioner with the necessary powers and resources to promote and safeguard the interests and rights of older people."

He said he was aware of the need to ensure value for money.

"We share that view and will ensure that all public services are being delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible," he said.

"We are critically examining all aspects of our department's expenditure, including the funding for sponsored public bodies and the potential to reduce costs through the sharing of resources among sponsored bodies."

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