Rural Poverty

Agriculture and Rural Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 27 September 2011.

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Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin 2:15, 27 September 2011

9. asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to outline what her Department can do to address rural poverty.   (AQO 405/11-15)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I am delighted to answer the question, because addressing rural poverty is a key departmental priority. Some £16 million has been allocated to addressing poverty and social exclusion in rural areas in the current Budget period. My officials are developing measures to tackle rural poverty and are engaging with stakeholders and other Departments to bring forward initiatives that will help those suffering rural poverty and social isolation.

Some of those measures will build on the successful rural poverty work undertaken by my predecessor, Michelle Gildernew, on access to benefits and services, rural transport and support services to vulnerable groups in rural communities such as elderly people and isolated young people. Those initiatives are having a positive impact on our rural communities, and I hope to build on that in the new term. Through the maximising access to services and benefits and grants for rural dwellers projects, 4,135 vulnerable rural households were visited, and 10,900 referrals to various Departments and agencies for further support were identified. Those actions will directly help those in poverty to secure a better standard of living.

By collaborating with the Department for Social Development (DSD) and NIE, my Department has been able to target fuel poverty. Around 1,000 homes in rural areas have received home energy efficiency measures such as insulation and new central heating systems. I am also keen to address social isolation, which goes hand in hand with poverty. The assisted rural travel scheme has supported almost 150,000 trips made by elderly or disabled people through the rural community transport partnerships. That has had a real impact on targeting social isolation among the most vulnerable in our society. Without that, some people would never get out of the house unless they have someone to call on them, which, obviously, is not the case for everyone.

Nonetheless, addressing poverty goes beyond that £16 million package. Although my Department cannot single-handedly solve all the challenges facing our rural communities, we must ensure that we target our limited resources to produce the maximum benefit. The EU rural development programme and the annual single farm payments also make a significant contribution to the rural economy and help to address the many challenges facing people in rural communities.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

Thank you, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her detailed answer. [Laughter.] What is the timetable for delivering rural poverty action?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I will be brief this time. We are reviewing all the anti-poverty measures that my predecessor introduced in the previous term. We are having a number of pre-consultation events, because we want to look at and build on our successes and achievements to date and the new initiatives that we can bring forward.