NICVA Policy Manifesto 2011

NICVA’s policy priorities for the 2011 elections set out our vision for the kind of Northern Ireland we would like to see.

Our vision is a positive one. It is of a place at peace with itself and of a government ready and willing to work with others to tackle the key issues that threaten our stability and prosperity.

This manifesto covers some of the most pressing social, economic and environmental issues that we, as a society, will face over the next four years. It offers positive ways in which politicians and political parties can tackle them.

Our vision is of... stable, cohesive government

Our vision is of a stable, cohesive government which works with others to take decisive action on the social, economic and environmental challenges facing Northern Ireland

No one can be in any doubt that, in many ways, Northern Ireland is a very different place now than it was 10 years ago.  However, for many people and communities, life hasn’t changed much and statistics on poverty, inequality and inclusion show that in some cases problems are getting worse.

A recent report on the impact on devolution across the UK found that Northern Ireland lagged behind the other regions when it came to making an impact on key issues. The authors attributed this to the “stop start” nature of devolution here. The fact that the 2007-2011 Assembly was the first one to fulfil its mandate is an encouraging sign and bodes well for our future development.

The 2011–2015 government of Northern Ireland will face difficult social, environmental and economic challenges. Many of these will not be of their own making but now, more than ever, the people will expect government to work together with a sense of purpose and meet these challenges head on.

This will call for new thinking, new ways of doing things and strong leadership.  Public confidence will be dented by an Executive that appears divided. Quite simply, Ministers will need the support of their cross party colleagues to have the space to deal with difficult issues. Unity of purpose in the Northern Ireland Executive will be the essential ingredient that will deliver success or failure.

Failure will mean public services in retreat, economic stagnation and a bleaker, wasted future for many of our people, particularly those on low incomes. An Executive that operates in a divided way almost guarantees failure. An Executive with unity of purpose will have a tough struggle and will face enormous challenges, but it has the possibility of success.

However, government and its agencies cannot do this alone. Voluntary and community organisations are ready to play their part in working alongside government to deliver positive results for all. Voluntary and community organisations can offer some effective solutions to tough times. They respond quickly to an emerging problem and are experts in cost saving early intervention measures. Where the aims and desired outcomes of a voluntary or community organisation and government converge, the sector can bring expertise, user engagement and often additional resources.

In order to realise our vision of a stable, cohesive government, which works with others to take decisive action on the social, economic and environmental challenges facing Northern Ireland, politicians and political parties should:

  • Ensure the NI Executive makes all major public policy and spending decisions together in a collegiate way and be jointly responsible for them.
  • Lead an open and informed public debate on key issues such as water and sewerage, health and social services, education and dealing with division.
  • Commit the NI Executive to putting in place a compact with outside stakeholders across the voluntary and community, private, and trades union sectors.  The purpose of the compact would be to get agreement on the actions necessary to reshape the economy and deliver good public services, the focus of which is the needs of individual citizens. This compact would spread unity of purpose outside government, encouraging all those who have a part to play to see that their efforts are part of a bigger plan.
  • Refocus resources across all government departments to support early intervention and preventative action. Investing to save in early intervention and prevention can deliver the preferred outcome for people, families and communities, eg keeping people out of care, while at the same time saving the cost of more expensive and less effective alternatives. In tough times the focus must be on finding more of these win-win solutions.

Our vision is of... a working economy

Our vision is of an economy that works for everyone.

As a regional economy coping with the impact of under investment,  the results of 30 years of conflict, high levels of economic inactivity, low levels of investment in research and development and communities marked by disadvantage and segregation, Northern Ireland faces considerable challenges to reviving our economy.

We agree with the assertion from DETI that, in a challenging global economy, Northern Ireland cannot rely solely on its traditional advantages such as low cost base and grant assistance to private investors.  The focus of improving skills, promoting enterprise, innovation and research and development, and investing in economic infrastructure will all be vitally important. However, rebuilding the economy will take more than simply focusing on enterprise and innovation. We also need to deal with the pressing social and environmental issues that hold us back and hamper development

Leading economic expert Richard Florida asserts that there are three necessary factors for developing a vibrant and creative economy - tolerance, talent and technology. Tackling issues such as sectarianism, racism, inequalities and division, investing in the regeneration of disadvantaged communities, providing strong protection for our most vulnerable citizens, making the most of our arts, creative industries, tourism and environment and ensuring the inclusion of even the most hard to reach people are not at the of edges of economic development – they are an integral part of creating a world class economy.

Northern Ireland has the potential to draw on its strengths and become a world leader in the green economy.  However time is running out to make the most of this opportunity as other regions and countries are already leading the way. For example, South Korea allocated just over 80% of its fiscal stimulus to environmental sectors.

The Green New Deal offers realistic proposals for Northern Ireland to become an active player in the global green economy market under seven priority areas for action: housing, public and commercial buildings, scaling up renewable energy supply, sustainable mobility, sustainable industries, employment and skills, and financial innovation.

It is estimated that there are over 1,000 social enterprises in Northern Ireland and that social economy activity accounts for approximately 5% of economic activity. The social economy sector employs 6,000 people, has 5,000 volunteers and a turnover of £335m per annum.

The social entrepreneurial activity rate for Northern Ireland, at 3.3%, is the fifth highest out of twelve regions on the UK.  In terms of wealth generation, job creation and social impact, social entrepreneurial activity is a phenomenon that policy makers need to take account of. Social entrepreneurship can be a driver for regeneration, neighbourhood renewal, employment in deprived areas and social reform.

In order to realise our vision of an economy that works for everyone, politicians and political parties should:

  • Ensure that proposed changes to legislation around issues such as corporation tax and the creation of an enterprise zone do not mean that business will benefit at the expense of public services and the people who rely on them.
  • Ensure that large scale regeneration projects, which subsume such a high level of public funds, are designed and implemented in a way that maximises their social and environmental impact, as well the obvious economic benefits. Government should work closely with local communities and other stakeholders to ensure these innovative and inspiring developments deliver their maximum potential.
  • Support the use of social clauses and local labour clauses to ensure that disadvantaged people and communities have the opportunity to benefit from regeneration projects. Where social clauses are included in tendering and form part of a successful bid, Central Procurement Directorate (CPD)  should ensure they are treated as seriously as all other parts of the project and the contractor should be required to fully report on their implementation.
  • Support the full implementation of the Green New Deal proposals to tackle the triple crunch of recession, rising energy prices and climate change and leverage resources and expertise to sustain and create thousands of jobs in the construction and renewable energy sectors.
  • Recognise and support the economic, social and environmental potential of the social economy through support for a fully resourced and target driven Social Economy Enterprise Strategy.

Our vision is of... a sustainable sector

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland with a strong and sustainable voluntary and community sector.

It is internationally recognised that one of the measures of the strength and stability of a democracy is the number and spread of voluntary and community organisations.

Northern Ireland should be proud of the fact that it has over 4,500 voluntary and community organisations delivering front line public services, developing and regenerating local communities and building social capital across Northern Ireland. The sector employs just over 29,000 people and a much larger number of people are in fact involved or associated with those organisations in a voluntary capacity.

The sector has a total income of £570million and £737.5million in assets (State of the Sector V, 2009), excluding housing associations and sport organisations.

Of the £570million of income, around £260million comes from government in Northern Ireland and in general buys public services from voluntary and community organisations to deliver on behalf of, or in partnership with, government.

The important role played by voluntary and community organisations has been recognised in the 2010 NI Audit Office report. Creating Effective Partnerships between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector found that the voluntary and community sector “makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the Executive’s strategic goals and priorities.”

The voluntary and community sector is worried that as cuts to public expenditure begin to bite, organisations delivering public services will be vulnerable to unfair and potentially disproportionate cuts. This is because voluntary and community sector providers are often seen as additional to statutory services.

The voluntary and community sector works to address many of the key social, economic and environmental issues facing Northern Ireland. By adopting an early intervention, prevention, education and community development approach voluntary and community organisations can offer solutions which deliver the preferred outcome for people, families and communities while at the same time saving the cost of more expensive and less effective alternatives.

Voluntary and community organisations offer a considerable resource.  They can unlock funding, expertise, user involvement and community buy-in that government could not otherwise access.

The voluntary and community sector is also the place where new ideas are tested, difficult issues are debated, solutions are found and citizens take action on issues that matter to them and the people they care about.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland with a strong and sustainable voluntary and community sector, politicians and political parties should:

  • Commit the Northern Ireland Executive to putting in place a compact with outside stakeholders across the voluntary and community, private, and trades union sectors.  The purpose of the compact would be to get agreement on the actions necessary to reshape the economy and deliver good public services, the focus of which is the needs of individual citizens.
  • Recognise the importance of the work of the voluntary and community sector and support and respect those employed in the sector by monitoring services facing cuts. Cuts to public services delivered by voluntary and community organisations should be challenged with the same vigour as those delivered by other agencies.
  • Support and engage in full and inclusive consultation on the commitment plan to implement the Concordat between the Government and the voluntary and community sector. This should include the development of an agreed Executive level vision for the future role of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. Ensure the Concordat is enforced by all government departments and their agencies. Support the development of local concordats between local government and the sector.
  • Deal with waste and create efficiencies by implementing the recommendations of the 2010 NI Audit Office report Creating Effective Partnerships between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector. This recommends a more appropriate level of systems and processes connected to auditing and accounting for government funding. The report also recommends a move towards measuring the quality of outcomes delivered by organisations.  Ensure voluntary and community organisations are enabled to compete for tenders for government services on an equal basis to all other organisations.
  • Recognise the importance of local community development organisations to building social capital, regenerating communities, fostering social inclusion and linking disadvantaged communities to information and services. Do this by building active links with community development organisations in your local areas and supporting a robust community development infrastructure across Northern Ireland.

Our vision is of... equality and mutual respect

Our vision is of a peaceful Northern Ireland based on equality and mutual respect

PSNI crime statistics show that in 2009-2010 there was a 24.3 % increase in sectarian crimes. Sectarianism continues to account for over 50% of all hate crimes.  Peace walls continue to be built.

Research by Connolly et al on the cultural and political awareness of 3-6 year olds in Northern Ireland shows that 13% of 5 year olds identified with either the Protestant or Catholic communities as did one in three 6 year olds.  From the age of 3, Catholic and Protestant children were found to show small but significant differences in their preferences for particular people’s names, flags and in terms of their attitudes towards orange marches and the police. 5 and 6 year olds also showed differences in terms of their preferences for particular combinations of colours and football shirts.

Support for integrated and shared education remains high. It is worthwhile noting that in the latest Good Relations Indicators published by OFMdFM, 62% of people in 2009 stated that they would prefer to send their children to a mixed-religion school. However, just fewer than 7% of school places are available in the integrated sector and only a handful of schools within the state and Catholic maintained sectors could be described as mixed-religion.

A recent Ipsos Mori poll (February 2011) conducted for the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) clearly shows that the majority of people in Northern Ireland support shared education, with 88% of people in Northern Ireland supporting integrated education and 91% of people supporting schools sharing facilities, partnering and collaborating across different religions, sectors and traditions. 90% of people thought that integrated education is important to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Reports of racially motivated crime are becoming all too common and Northern Ireland suffered a huge damage to its international reputation in 2009 when Roma people in Belfast were forced to leave their homes. Life expectancy amongst Irish travellers is the lowest of all groups in Northern Ireland. Migrant workers continue to remain vulnerable to abuses of their human and employment rights.

In order to realise our vision of a peaceful Northern Ireland based on equality and mutual respect politicians and political parties should:

  • Publish the results of the consultation on the draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy as a matter of urgency.  This should be followed by the agreement of a revised strategy which takes into account points raised in the consultation. The strategy should be backed up by resourced, targeted and output driven action plans.
  • Commit to mainstreaming the promotion of shared spaces and increased integration in all funded capital and revenue projects. Northern Ireland cannot continue to sustain the cost of division.
  • Commit to ensuring community relations policy and practice is monitored by an organisation outside of government with a strong challenge role and the ability to offer independent advice and support when necessary.
  • Take an employment rights approach to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers.  Immigration law may not be a devolved matter but ensuring migrant workers have equal access to essential services and sources of information and enjoy full employment rights is well within the gift of Northern Ireland’s elected members.
  • Ensure strong commitments to develop a cohesive education system within the new Programme for Government which ensures educational not sectoral growth. There needs to be a long-term strategic plan that is agreed by the Executive and key stakeholders, and is appropriately resourced and monitored.  Ensure that legislation places a public duty on schools to be shared and inclusive spaces, and encourages mergers and federations. It is critical that there are no legislative impediments to new models of federation and the sharing of resources and governance between schools. Provide resources for those schools wishing to explore mergers and federation models across different sectors. A capital funding model should be developed to incentivise shared and integrated education.

Our vision is of... no gap between rich and poor

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where the gap between the rich and the poor is eliminated

The high levels of poverty and exclusion experienced by some people, families and communities in Northern Ireland are unacceptable and have a negative impact on almost all aspects of life here. Voluntary and community organisations want to see a reduction in the gap between rich and poor people in Northern Ireland because it is socially just, and because research has shown that the most cohesive regions in Europe are also the most successful.

Around 220,000 people were in receipt of an out-of-work benefit in February 2010. Of these, 130,000 (ie more than half) were sick or disabled, 50,000 were unemployed, and 25,000 were lone parents. Until 2008, numbers had been falling slowly, but steadily, from 210,000 in February 2007 to 185,000 in February 2008.

Much of the decrease was in unemployed claimants, the numbers of whom halved over the period, to 20,000. Between February 2008 and February 2010, however, numbers rose sharply, from 185,000 to 220,000. The number of unemployed claimants is now greater than at any point in the previous decade.

The February 2011 Labour Force Survey found that the total number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland was  59,100 - a rise of 300 on the previous month. It was the largest increase among the 12 UK regions. The were 3,500 or 6.3% on the February 2010 figures.  The survey also suggests there were 1,880 fewer jobs available over the quarter.

Almost half of people in lone parent families are on low income. This is two and a half times the rate for families with two parents. Children are more likely to live in low income households than adults. The proportion of pensioners in low income households is higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK, excluding London. Two fifths of single pensioners and one fifth of pensioner couples have no income outside the state retirement pension and other benefits – this is much higher than anywhere else in the UK.

Men living in affluent areas can expect to live up to ten years longer than their peers in poorer areas. There is a marked difference in the rate of infant mortality with the rate in the most deprived fifth of areas (7 per 1,000 live births) being one third higher than the rate elsewhere (5 per 1,000 live births). In the most deprived areas around six girls in every 1,000 aged 13 to 16 give birth. In other areas, by contrast, just two girls in every 1,000 aged 13 to 16  give birth.

Due to the need to budget for every last penny of income, the inability to save, and restricted access to favourable payment terms for credit or loans, the poorest people and families pay more for basic goods and services. This so called ‘poverty premium’ can equate to £1,280 per annum. Insurance is an unaffordable luxury for many people on low incomes and getting into debt is often the only way to cope with unexpected household emergencies.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where the gap between the rich and the poor is eliminated politicians and political parties should:

  • Support a Northern Ireland wide benefit uptake campaign to ensure that all citizens maximise their income and entitlements. Ensure Northern Ireland is served by a strong and comprehensive network of advice centres offering a range of services, including debt advice.
  • Actively explore ways in which devolution can really work for the people of Northern Ireland by offsetting the impacts of welfare reform and cuts to public expenditure. Government should consult on the Social Investment Fund and Social Protection Fund in OFMdFM and the Jobs Creation Fund in DETI as a matter of urgency. These funds should be seen as the beginning of a comprehensive Executive led initiative to ensure that Welfare Reform and cuts in expenditure do not plunge Northern Ireland even further into poverty, social exclusion and division.
  • Lifetime Opportunities, the anti-poverty strategy, should be revised and reinvigorated to reflect the new challenges facing the NI Executive and Assembly. The membership and workings of all associated advisory bodies should be revisited in order to make them more effective, focused and outcome driven.
  • Support a range of actions to tackle the poverty premium. People and families should have access to social tariffs and other schemes to tackle fuel poverty. Government should work alongside credit unions and other financial institutions to encourage access to affordable credit. Schemes to provide affordable and low cost insurance should be explored to offer a safety net for unexpected household emergencies.

Our vision is of... the positive role of men

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where the positive role of men is valued and encouraged.

Despite the fact that males in Northern Ireland constitute almost half of the population, they are rarely given much attention until they are seen as a problem. More often than not, it is only the negative aspects of their lives that are highlighted. At best, there is an assumption that we live in a ‘man’s world’ and, therefore, males do not have any specific needs. At worst, ‘men’s issues’ are viewed as a threat to women’s development.

We know that males have a shorter life expectancy than females, under-perform in school, are less likely to seek medical help while a condition can be treated, are most likely to be both the perpetrator and the victim of a violent crime, and are more likely to die from suicide. Yet, despite this, there is no ‘men’s sector’ in Northern Ireland, and there are very few groups that work exclusively with men and boys. There are even fewer who receive any funding or support from statutory sources to carry out this work.

This is an under-researched, under-resourced and under-developed area, which lacks a solid infrastructure. Men’s needs and issues are not being clearly articulated and understood - mostly because there is no one with the time and remit to do so.

Given the dearth of funding / resources offered to men’s work, a small amount of support will make a huge difference. Sometimes this does not even require financial input as a shift in culture, focus and operating systems can bring wide-reaching positive outcomes.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where the positive role of men is valued and encouraged politicians and political parties should:

  • Commission new research into the needs of men, young men and boys, and ensure the systematic collation of existing data. For example, create a Northern Ireland version of “Social Focus on Men” (from the Office for National Statistics). Ensure that men’s issues and needs are reflected in government departments’ Gender Action Plans. At present, this is often not the case.
  • Adopt a Men’s Health and Well-Being Policy for Northern Ireland similar to the one already in existence in the Republic of Ireland. This would provide a much needed framework against which to measure if the needs of men and boys are being met. This should include specific targets to increase male life expectancy and improve male health. It should also include the establishment of support services to help males deal with times of crisis, build resilience, and promote their mental health / awareness of their human rights, from a young age.
  • Develop innovative models of parenting education for fathers, and ensure that existing family support services actively include male carers in their provision. Ensure that all policies and procedures connected to family law are based upon equality of treatment, and that the training of relevant professionals reflects this.
  • Provide sufficient resources to pilot new approaches to engaging men in adult education programmes and improve the educational outcomes for young men. Promote the recruitment and retention of male workers in ‘non-traditional’ professions.
  • Underwrite dedicated support services for male victims (and their children) of domestic abuse and violence, and introduce programmes to support men and young men to move away from societal violence.
  • Promote parental leave by encouraging firms to enable fathers to take their leave entitlement.

Our vision is of... equal opportunities for people with disabilities

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities to play a full and active role in society.

21% of adults and 6% of children in Northern Ireland have a disability. The living costs of a person with a disability are 25% higher than those without, and 50% of people with a disability have some difficulty in using a range of services. In the current climate of welfare reform and the review of Disability Living Allowance, disabled people have genuine fears regarding their standard of living and financial security. When it comes to housing, people with disabilities experience long waiting lists in order to be allocated suitable accommodation.

Disabled people have the right to be supported in their own homes, yet for those who need to make adaptations the process can take years to complete. In addition, essential home care packages are under threat. Respite provision is a crucial element of ensuring disabled people receive the support they need to live independently, yet provision is patchy across NI and there is a growing fear that provision of respite care is under threat.

Despite legislation being in place on access to goods and services, many disabled people still face barriers to access to information, goods, and services from all kinds of organisations and bodies including doctors surgeries, dentists, places of worship, shops, banks, restaurants, and voluntary and community groups. The barriers to inclusion faced by disabled people also reach into the political realm. Our electoral process does not cater well for the needs of disabled people and disabled people are less likely to stand for or participate in elections.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities to play a full and active role in society, politicians and political parties should:

  • Review the points system for housing to better reflect the needs of disabled people. Set targets for reducing the waiting list for housing adaptation and take steps to ensure the process is shortened and less bureaucratic.
  • Support benefit uptake campaigns and ensure disabled people are fully consulted on all aspects of welfare reform. The system for direct payments should be simplified.
  • Guarantee access to high quality care packages for people with disabilities no matter where they live. Ensure age and disability appropriate respite care provision is made available on a consistent basis across Northern Ireland.
  • Improve access so that people with disabilities can make use of all areas of public and social life. Information should be provided in an accessible and understandable format.
  • Support changes to the electoral and political processes that will allow people with disabilities to participate fully. These include, photographs of all candidates on ballot papers, full physical and communication access for polling stations, and ensuring all communications from political parties are accessible for people with disabilities. Each party should have a disability champion and a specified disability spokesperson.

Our vision is of... full gender equality

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where there is full equality between women and men.

Despite equality legislation and the publication of the Gender Matters strategy, equality between women and men in Northern Ireland seems as far away as ever. The labour market remains segregated with significantly more women than men concentrated in low paid and part-time employment. The gender pay gap still persists and it is estimated that women will shoulder at least 75% of the cuts announced in the 2011 budget.

Women in Northern Ireland bear the burden of caring for children and other dependants while the availability of quality, affordable childcare is far below that of the rest of the UK. Childcare remains the single biggest barrier for women with dependent children in Northern Ireland to be able to access and stay in work.

Childcare services need to be affordable, age appropriate, flexible, and of a high quality. In the 2007 elections only 17 women were elected to the Assembly, and this number has fallen to 15 since then. No party took the opportunity afforded by co-options to address this serious gender imbalance at the heart of decision making. In 2009-10 almost 32,300 calls were made to the 24 hour Domestic Violence Helpline open to anyone affected by domestic violence and the PSNI recorded 24,500 incidents with domestic motivation. Northern Ireland still lacks effective rape crisis provision. Access to information and support on issues relating to reproductive health for women is not consistent across Northern Ireland.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where there is full equality between women and men, politicians and political parties should:

  • Implement the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to ensure women are nominated for winnable positions within the party and at elections. This will improve the unequal representation of women in political life, as mandated by the concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee in 2008, which noted the under-representation of women and called for the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Northern Ireland as a means of improving women’s representation in political and public life.
  • Identify a lead department for childcare policy and practice, and develop an integrated childcare strategy and action plan, to meet at least the UK average of 1.4 childcare places in Northern Ireland.   Encourage employers in Northern Ireland, starting with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to implement a broad range of flexible working and family friendly policies and practices.
  • Ensure equal access to information on sexual and reproductive health services for all women in Northern Ireland - regardless of where they live. Support the provision of independent rape crisis support and ensure that statutory services, including the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, are supported by accessible services across Northern Ireland.  Change Legal Aid rules to ensure all victims of domestic violence have access to legal protection and justice.
  • Ensure access to non directive information and advice on sexual health, contraception, fertility and all other women’s health issues as recommended by CEDAW.
  • Ensure that all decisions relating to the budget are fully gender proofed. Lobby the NIO to designate the Department of Work and Pensions in the list of government bodies that are covered by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. This will ensure that welfare reform proposals are subject to the full extent of equality scrutiny that all other policies in Northern Ireland must comply with.

Our vision is of… no child poverty

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where no child or young person lives in poverty, disadvantage or exclusion.

Children in Northern Ireland face many problems including poverty, neglect and abuse, inequality and inadequate services.

25% of children live in poverty, 45,000 live in severe poverty, and almost one in five live in persistent poverty. 6% of children in Northern Ireland are affected by a disability and the most common types of disabilities are linked with chronic illnesses, learning difficulties and social / behavioural difficulties.

Recent statistics for Northern Ireland show that between 2000-2009, during a period of economic growth, the number of young people classified as Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET)doubled to 52,000. The ongoing split between early years (DE) and childcare (OFMdFM) is resulting in some of our most vulnerable children being denied access to a high quality early childhood provision. In 2009, only 29.7% of children eligible for free school meals entitlement (FSME) achieved five passes at GCSE compared to 63.6% of their peers who did not qualify for FSME.

Over 20% of children suffer significant mental health problems and the incidence of mental ill health among vulnerable children is higher. This includes those with disabilities, living in poverty, those in conflict with the law and care experienced children. There is a high level of unmet need in relation to the availability of adequate Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) provision. Almost 200 children in Northern Ireland were detained on adult psychiatric wards between 2007 and 2009.

Young males under 18 continue to be detained with adults in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre, which is a category C prison and is not a child appropriate institution. Children in Hydebank do not have adequate access to education, healthcare, including CAMHS, leisure, including time out of their cell and outdoors. There are inadequate systems of child protection and ineffective complaints mechanisms.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where no child or young person lives in poverty, disadvantage or exclusion politicians and political parties should:

  • Commit to ensuring the NI Executive develops a more co-ordinated and joined up provision for children and young people, building on some of the good practice at local level, and looking creatively at pooling mainstream budgets around shared outcomes. Service provision should recognise the additional resources that may be required to ensure equality of access and benefit for children and young people with a disability.
  • Proceed promptly with publication and implementation of a robust Northern Ireland Child Poverty Strategy that includes detailed delivery action plans with an identified department taking lead responsibility in delivering the strategy. The Northern Ireland Child Poverty Strategy must be viewed as an opportunity not only to mitigate and alleviate child poverty, but as an opportunity for the Executive to better target and allocate diminishing resources.
  • Implement a cross-departmental, target driven and resourced strategy for NEET young people.
  • Establish a fully integrated system of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) vision. There should be lead Ministerial responsibility for fully integrated early years and child care services underpinned by a commitment to co-operation by all relevant departments.
  • Hold schools accountable for closing the attainment gap between rich and poor children and support them by targeting extra resources at pupils living in poverty.
  • Commit to the increased provision of excellent quality child and adolescent mental health services available to all children and young people who require them and to the full implementation of the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities.
  • Commit to the removal of all under 18s from detention with adults in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre.

Our vision is of... decent housing

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where everyone lives in a decent, settled and affordable home.

Having a decent, settled and affordable home is fundamental to personal well-being and social inclusion. It provides security, promotes health and gives a firm platform for creating social networks, capitalising on educational opportunities and securing and maintaining employment. Good quality, affordable housing can also contribute significantly to economic growth attracting private finance, creating jobs and promoting stable communities.

However, for a growing number of people, finding a suitable home they can afford in Northern Ireland has become increasingly difficult. Housing costs are the largest item of expenditure for many households and housing is no longer simply a concern for low-income households, but an issue for everyone. Demand for independent housing advice has doubled (In Quarter 3 of 2010-11, Housing Rights Service dealt with over 100% more issues and 24% more clients than in the same period in the previous year.)

Even before the recession, the lack of affordable housing in Northern Ireland was creating problems. The recession has made this worse. Cuts to the Northern Ireland budget and to welfare benefits will affect those who are already vulnerable and disadvantaged. Homelessness presentations, after a period of stabilisation, have begun to increase (10,130 households compared to 9,126 in the first six months of 2009/10) with a substantial rise in those being awarded priority status (from 4,828 to 5,120; 10%).

It is estimated that, because of welfare reform cuts, around 38,000 private tenants will have an additional shortfall of £7-£8 per week between their contractual rent and housing benefit. “Inevitably more private tenants will lose their home.” This is particularly worrying as the private rented sector (PRS) is being held up as the solution to housing need. House prices continue to fall, placing many owner occupiers in negative equity.

Mortgages, especially for first time buyers, are difficult to access because of higher deposits and more restrictive lending criteria.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where everyone lives in a decent, settled and affordable home, politicians and political parties should:

  • As a matter of urgency develop an overarching, adequately resourced, comprehensive Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland.
  • Provide long term funding for the Social Housing Development Programme (2011-15) to encourage private investor confidence and ultimately meet housing need. Work with private developers to encourage a build to rent market, using more cost effective construction methods to warrant affordable rents. Review the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme and develop other incentives for home ownership. Modernise fitness measures within privately rented stock to ensure they meet at least decent homes standards.
  • Bring in legislative reform to implement the recommendations of the Semple Review (2007) regarding the introduction of developer contributions as a mechanism for increasing the supply of social housing and allow housing associations to build new homes for sale thereby giving them the opportunity to provide increased finance for social housing development.
  • Protect those at most risk from the negative impact of welfare reform, by increasing the Discretionary Housing Benefit budget in line with the increases introduced in England. Introduce a mortgage rescue scheme. Establish a Preventing Repossession Fund to provide interest free loans to people at risk of repossession and ensure legal aid is available to fund emergency representation on the day of possession hearings.
  • Support the ring-fencing of the Supporting People programme and ensure that the programme remains within the DSD. Finance for the care services provided by DHSSPS should not be reduced. Re-commit to the cross-departmental principles of Promoting the Social Inclusion of Homeless People and develop a new action plan which reflects emerging challenges and economic realities.

Our vision is of… older people free from poverty and isolation

 Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where older people are safe and free from poverty and isolation.

The older population of Northern Ireland is continuing to grow. In the next twenty years the number of people aged 50+ is projected to increase by 37%. HM Treasury estimates that the annual impact of this change in expenditure on health, long term care and pensions will rise to 2.5% of GDP by 2030. This presents a significant public policy challenge which Northern Ireland must begin to plan for now.

Poverty levels amongst older people are increasing and 23% of older people in Northern Ireland live in poverty. 30% of women over 75 are living in poverty. Despite this, 34% of older people entitled to Pension Credit do not claim it. It is estimated that between £1.2m and £2.3m in benefits for older people remain unclaimed.

Older people in Northern Ireland continue to die unnecessarily during the winter months. In 2009-2010 there was an estimated increase of 756 winter deaths amongst older people. 62% of older people in Northern Ireland are living in fuel poverty.

Older people are treated unfairly in a number of areas, including insurance, health services and financial services. Difficulty in getting car insurance means that older people may pay higher premiums or may not be able to access cover at all. Age barriers in volunteering opportunities and public life (for example serving on juries) limit the full participation of older people in community life.  Age discrimination in goods, facilities and services is already illegal in Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland. Older people in Northern Ireland are being left out.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where older people are safe and free from poverty and isolation, politicians and political parities should:

  • Put forward legislation to ban age discrimination in Northern Ireland at the first opportunity.
  • Implement a fundamental review of the social care system with a view to developing a modern and responsive care system. The health and social care system should have a great focus on preventative measures to enable older people to remain healthy and independent. There should be an end to age related or upper age limits for intervention.
  • Set a clear target for the elimination of pensioner poverty, including fuel poverty and a timeline for achieving it.
  • Provide automatic payment of Pension Credit for all entitled older people.

Our vision is of… lifelong learning

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland with a strong culture of lifelong learning and skills development.

Having access to learning is a basic right. In times of economic downturn it is more important than ever to maintain, and indeed, increase such access, particularly for those experiencing multiple disadvantages.

In addition to equipping people for employment, adult learning improves community inclusion and cohesion, increases civic engagement (including voting), supports children’s learning, decreases dependency on health and social care services, and nurtures entrepreneurship and innovation.

Adult learning can reach, and provide a second chance, to those who have been failed by the conventional education system – particularly those who leave school without formal qualifications. Nurturing a broader culture of learning will strengthen the success of the Skills Strategy and create pathways to it for those for whom it will seem remote and daunting.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland with a strong culture of lifelong learning and skills development politicians and political parties should:

  • Support initiatives to ensure access for all to learning by pledging to ensure support for those adults facing barriers to learning, be these financial, physical, social or institutional, particularly those with no or few qualifications.
  • Develop a strategy for life long learning to ensure everyone values learning and is supported through life to develop to full capacity.
  • Support the formation of an All Party Group on Adult Learning in the new Assembly.
  • Introduce mandatory social tariffs for older people in fuel poverty.

Our vision is of… LGBT equality

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where there is equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

While recognising that many advances have been made in Northern Ireland in terms of promoting equality of opportunity and protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people there is outstanding work still to be done.

Research shows us that in Northern Ireland: 20% of LGB people have experienced homophobic hate crimes/incidents; 77% of transgendered people have experienced a hate crime/incident; 64% of LGB people who are victims of crime did not report to the police through fears the police would not or could not do anything; 69% of young LGB people reported being victims of homophobic bullying in school; and LGBT people are at higher risk of depression, self-harm, thoughts about suicide and death by suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

In 2006, the Direct Rule government consulted on a draft Sexual Orientation Strategy and Action Plan. No further action was taken following this consultation and the document was shelved.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where there is equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, politicians and political parties should:

  • Immediately pursue the publication of a comprehensive Sexual Orientation Strategy and Action Plan, developed by OFMdFM in partnership with the LGBT Community and LGBT professional sector organisations.
  • Explore the impact of extending Section 75 (2) beyond the traditional areas of race, political opinion and religious belief to include LGBT as a way of addressing homophobia and trans-phobia in Northern Ireland.
  • Implement an educational programme for primary and secondary schools, colleges and community groups in relation to all minority based hate crime.
  • Ensure that when government financed strategies, such as the Suicide Prevention Strategy and Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan, identify LGBT people as being high risk are being implemented, government funds are distributed in accordance with need.

Our vision is of… impact through volunteering

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where more people make a real impact in their local communities through volunteering in more varied and interesting roles.

Volunteers and volunteering refer to individuals and the work or action they undertake for the benefit of others or the community (outside the immediate family), by free choice and not directly in return for wages.

There are an estimated 282,067 individuals aged over 16 years volunteering for organisations in Northern Ireland.

Individually, formal volunteers give an average of 13.4 hours each month. Based on the Northern Ireland average hourly wage, this is a contribution of £504 million to the economy.  As a proportion of all formal volunteers, six out of every ten are females (61%). Individuals aged between 35 and 49 years old and those aged between 16 and 24 years old are the most likely to volunteer. Volunteers say that the main reasons they volunteer are wanting to improve things and because they enjoy it and get satisfaction from their volunteering.

Volunteers have a strong sense of civic responsibility.  The 2007 It’s all about time research into volunteering in Northern Ireland found that 58% of formal volunteers aged between 25 and 34 years old voted in the last General Election whereas 48% of non-volunteers in the same age bracket voted. 15% of formal volunteers have attended a public consultation event/meeting/forum whereas only 2% of non-volunteers stated they had done the same. Almost three quarters of all formal volunteers have stated that their circle of friends/networks have increased as a consequence of formal volunteering and 56% of formal volunteers have attributed an increased contact with other communities/religions to their engagement in volunteering.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where more people make a real impact in their local communities, through volunteering in more varied and interesting roles, politicians and political parties should:

  • Participate in opportunities to recognise and celebrate volunteering for the key role it plays in sustaining community life.
  • Seek to reduce bureaucracy in volunteering. Examples could be better training for people in the Social Security Agency in relation to volunteering and benefits, or challenging insurance companies which try to charge people more for using their cars to volunteer.
  • Support the creative engagement of volunteers in the public sector by developing new roles which are not a substitute for paid jobs but which extend and improve the services provided eg meet and greet services at hospitals or befriending, volunteer driving etc.
  • Recognise that volunteering needs to be resourced, volunteers are not free and organisations need to support volunteers to ensure they are effectively involved.

Our vision is of… a healthy environment

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland with sustainable communities, a healthy environment, vibrant seas and energy security.

If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated carbon emissions at the rate we do in Northern Ireland, we’d need three planet Earths to support us. While climate change is a global issue the Department of the Environment’s State of Environment (2008) report confirms that climate change is having an impact here. “Climate change is occurring at an increasingly measurable scale. Air temperature is rising and the number of hot days is increasing; the proportion of rainfall in summer is decreasing, while winters are getting wetter.”

99% of our energy needs are met by imported fossil fuels and this threatens our energy security.  Yet we are not fully developing our vast local renewable energy resources from wind, tidal power and biomass.

Half of Northern Ireland’s wildlife, around 4,000 species, lives in the sea, yet less than 4% of it has any form of protection.  1,000,000 marine animals are killed annually around our coasts. Our rivers and lakes to suffer the impacts of pollution from agricultural, domestic and industrial sources, and in 2009 over 70% of our rivers and lakes still failed to meet the ‘good ecological status’ water quality standard required by the EU by 2015 under the Water Framework Directive. Littering costs Northern Ireland £100,000 a day.

Emissions from road transport represent 28.2% of Northern Ireland’s total Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2008 an increase of 39.5% since 1990 - cars were responsible for 54% of the CO2 emissions and HGVs contributed 36%.  Yet the indicative budgets for the next four years show that government intends to spend a total of £3,095 million on roads and only £725 million on public transport.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland with sustainable communities, a healthy environment, vibrant seas and energy security, politicians and political parties should:

  • Introduce a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act with a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
  • Commit to establishing an independent environmental protection agency within three years.
  • Develop a long-term (ie 40 year) Energy Strategy which sets clear targets to reduce our over-dependence on fossil fuels and increase energy production from renewables, and matches the EU Renewable Energy Directive targets of 15% of energy generated from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Introduce a Northern Ireland Marine Act and establish an independent marine management organisation. Put in place legislation which integrates all sectors of marine activity so that there is minimum disruption and damage to marine wildlife. Ensure adequate resources are in place to support the full implementation of the Water Framework Directive.
  • Ensure 50% of transport spending is allocated to public transport and/or sustainable forms of transport.

Our vision is of… valued carers

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where carers are valued and supported.

There are 185,000 carers in Northern Ireland, providing care for ill, frail or disabled family members, friends and partners. Carers in Northern Ireland contribute a staggering £3.12 billion per year to the state.

Research carried out with carers in Northern Ireland discovered that 93% of respondents have found their financial situation has worsened since becoming a carer, compared to an average of 73% across the UK. 48% of carers are having trouble paying gas, electricity or telephone bills and 77% of respondents worry about their finances, either a lot or all of the time.

Parents of disabled children under the age of 18 and those caring for adult disabled children were worst hit, suffering greater debt and difficulty in paying bills and having to borrow from friends and family. Research by Carers UK found that almost 69,000 people in Northern Ireland face new caring responsibilities each year, with 65% of these not recognising themselves as carers in the first year of caring. As a consequence, one in three believed they had missed out on benefits and pension entitlements.

Access to respite for carers in Northern Ireland is inadequate and standards and availability vary across the region. 52% of full-time carers in Northern Ireland are never able to take even a week’s break from their caring.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where carers are valued and supported, politicians and political parties should:

  • Support carer-specific initiatives such as information, outreach and benefit uptake programmes and Carers Rights Day which takes place in December each year.
  • Support the call to increase Carers Allowance to a rate at least equivalent to that of the State Retirement Pension. Lobby for changes to Carers Allowance to ensure it is classified as an entitlement rather than an income replacement benefit and disregarded as income so that it can continue to be paid to people on pensions.
  • Call on health and social care professionals to promote Carers’ Assessments as a way to identify and meet the needs of carers.
  • Increase the availability of suitable respite services for carers and the people they care for, both residential and domiciliary.
  • Simplify and speed up the process of housing adaptations. If a need is assessed the client should be entitled to the change without undue delay.
  • Promote flexible working policies by employers, including public bodies, that allow carers to balance work with caring and maintain an adequate level of income.

Our vision is of… full access to art

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland where lives are enriched by full access to all forms of art.

The Community Arts Forum estimates there are over 1,500 groups and individuals involved in the delivery of community arts in Northern Ireland. The lowest estimate for the total size of the voluntary arts sector is 1,400 groups.

Voluntary and community arts groups are the lead providers of opportunities to take part in art. In Northern Ireland over 1,400 groups provide 160,000 adults with 8.1 million chances to participate a year and reach audiences of the same order. People aged between 16 and 24, and those over 65, are most likely to participate in voluntary arts groups.  Just under half of all adult participants are aged 40 or under.

Investment in the arts is particularly vulnerable in tough financial times as the arts are often viewed as a luxury. However the contribution arts make to community cohesion, personal development, tourism and the wider economy should not be underestimated.  The creative sector, which employs 33,000 people in Northern Ireland and contributes £582m to the economy per year, relies on arts and artists. 39% of visitors to Northern Ireland engaged in cultural activities while here.  Voluntary and community arts will be crucial to ensuring that exciting new developments such as the Lyric Theatre and Metropolitan Arts Centre are able to realise their potential.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland where lives are enriched by full access to all forms of voluntary and community arts, politicians and political parties should:

  • Adopt an ‘Arts Proof’ policy across central and local government to include, involving representatives of the arts in social, economic and environmental consultation and planning process.
  • Actively promote use of the ‘percentage for arts’ scheme.
  • Move the level of arts funding closer to that in Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Actively protect and promote un-biased, adequate and secure long-term funding to the voluntary and community arts.
  • Increase access to the arts by enabling people from new communities, isolated and marginalised groups to participate in and enjoy the arts.
  • Ensure that voluntary and community based arts play a strong role in planning and delivery of the 2013 City of Culture in Derry.
  • Support programmes to encourage greater links between arts and education and arts and health.

Our vision is of… sustainable rural communities

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland with sustainable rural communities.

35% of the population live in rural communities.  Rural communities have higher numbers of older people, greater transport and fuel costs and limited access to employment opportunities and childcare.  Vulnerable groups such as lone parents, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people living in rural areas can face greater isolation than their urban counterparts.   Nearly 50,000 people are employed in the agriculture industry and agricultural production is a key contributor to the economy.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland with sustainable rural communities, politicians and political parties should:

  • Support a Rural White Paper that works for rural communities and is backed up with a meaningful, targeted and resourced action plan. Ensure that the programme for government is rural proofed.
  • Recognise the importance of agriculture in Northern Ireland. Conduct a full and open debate on the impacts of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in Northern Ireland.
  • Ensure that the review of the Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure gives a higher weighting to the ‘access to goods and services’ element in order to better capture levels of deprivation in rural areas.
  • Develop a Sustainable Rural Transport Policy which obliges government departments to work together and which is shaped by the needs of rural citizens and communities.
  • Ensure that the Northern Ireland Childcare strategy includes distinct issues for rural areas and builds on the experience of DARD Rural Childcare Programme.

Our vision is of… a fair criminal justice system

Our vision is of a Northern Ireland with a fair, rights based criminal justice system which enjoys public confidence.

In March 2011 there were 1,584 people in prison in Northern Ireland (including those on remand) at an estimated cost of £78,000 per person.  The rate of re-offending stands at 43%. Resettlement, including a place to live and access to employment, is one of the most effective ways of tackling reoffending and reducing the number of people in prison. Studies show employment can reduce re-offending by between a third and a half.  However, many people leave prison with inadequate support and fall back into offending.

At a time when public finances are facing huge cuts and fear of crime is on the rise, it is crucial for communities in Northern Ireland to consider real solutions to crime and reoffending.

The experiences of children and the criminal justice system are deeply concerning in a number of ways.  The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) continues to be ten years. The ages of criminal responsibility in Ireland and England, Wales and Northern Ireland are among not just the lowest in Europe, but also in the world. It is clear that custody is not being used as a measure of last resort.

In October 2009, 10 of the 26 children in the Juvenile Justice Centre were from a care background. Concerns have consistently been raised that children who are disruptive in care homes are too easily moved into the criminal justice system.   On 30 November 2007 there were 30 children in the Juvenile Justice Centre. Of these, 20 had a diagnosed mental health disorder; 17 had a history of self harm; 8 had at least one suicide attempt on record; 8 were on the child protection register; and 14 had a statement of educational needs. Children and young people who are detained in custody have no right under current law to be educated in line with the Northern Ireland curriculum. Education is not compulsory in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and children and young people who are detained there can opt out of education – even those who are below the compulsory school leaving age.

According to the Northern Ireland Crime Survey (2009-2010) there is a 1 in 7 chance of becoming a victim of crime.  Crime is a socio-economic issue - people who are most likely to experience crime live in rented/social housing; regularly socialise; are young men aged between 16 and 24 years old; or live in areas with a high incidence of anti-social behaviour. Single people and men aged 16 to 24 are also included as most likely to become a victim of crime.

In order to realise our vision of a Northern Ireland with a fair, rights based criminal justice system which enjoys public confidence, politicians and political parties should:

  • Commit to a root and branch reform of the Northern Ireland prison system to create a framework grounded in upholding human rights with a firm and discernable focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement.
  • Redirect resources to support early intervention and preventative work. This should include work to reduce offending behaviour while ensuring that children who offend are responded to as children first, as well as initiatives which meet the needs of children and which ensures that very vulnerable young people, including looked after young people, are not inappropriately placed in the criminal justice system.
  • Support initiatives aimed at the successful resettlement of offenders including those which help create access to employment and to introduce legislation that reduces the barriers  offenders face when seeking employment.
  • Transfer responsibility for education in places of detention for children and young people from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education with urgency.
  • Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in line with international recommendations to between 14 and 16 years.
  • Recognise that issues relating to crime, justice and community safety cut across all NI government departments and that all must contribute to a reducing offending strategy.
  • Ensure victims and witnesses receive appropriate, personalised support by endorsing initiatives to ensure all victims of crime receive dignified, fair and respectful treatment, timely and appropriate information, practical help (including protection from revictimisation and compensation), counselling (where needed), and support in dealing with the emotional impact and in dealing with the Criminal Justice System.


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