One measure of a civilised society is how it treats and prioritises its elderly and people with disabilities. We are nowhere near the top of that league table.
The Assembly’s five-year Active Ageing Strategy concluded last year and has not been replaced or updated and the current Disability Strategy is falling far short of its objectives.
Both the elderly and people with living with disability have been sent a clear signal of their worth with the news that, from the end of April, the Department of Infrastructure will end its funding of schemes including Shop Mobility and Community Transport initiatives like the Dial A Lift service.
The services under threat provide a vital life line for some of the most vulnerable people in the community. They support social inclusion, help prevent isolation, loneliness and the mental health issues they can cause.
These services provide the reassurance and support for people who would not otherwise be able to keep GP or hospital appointments. They counter social isolation thorough access to supermarkets and other retail outlets. They enable elderly people and people with disability to continue to be an active part of society.
In the case of schemes like Shop Mobility they also support individual independence and dignity.
We have strategies which promise to ‘raise awareness and improve opportunities and services for disabled people by addressing the inequalities and to tackling the barriers they face in their daily lives’, but the lived reality is now very different.
Around 40% of people in Northern Ireland live in rural areas. Many rely on community transport to allow them to leave their homes. Withdrawal of funding will also directly affect the staff and volunteers who help deliver these transport schemes.
The funding for Community Transport and associated services must be extended to meet growing need and by ring fenced to protect it against future cuts. That is how we demonstrate that we value our vulnerable citizens, but only in a socialist society can that be delivered fully and guaranteed..