T6. Mr Storey asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, after passing on his best wishes to his colleague Edwin Poots and adding to the Minister for the Economy’s comments about the River Bann, in that she will know that it runs through his constituency, where Drumaheagles, which is adjacent to the River Bann, is a beautiful part of Northern Ireland, where, no doubt, she has enjoyed some happy times, to provide an update on the initiative to tackle rural poverty and social isolation, which has become an issue that the Minister will be well aware of through her ministerial responsibilities, particularly given the impact of COVID over the past number of months. (AQT 786/17-22)
I thank the Member for his question on rural poverty and social isolation. Isolation and loneliness in particular have been exacerbated by the COVID restrictions, and there are some very touching stories of how that has impacted on folk, particularly older folk, in isolated rural areas. The tackling rural poverty and social isolation (TRPSI) programme continues to provide support for a range of initiatives in collaboration with other Departments, statutory agencies and the community and voluntary sector. That has helped, on average, 60,000 rural dwellers to address poverty, isolation and health and well-being issues. An additional £5 million has been confirmed to help rural dwellers and communities and to assist businesses to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That brings the TRPSI programme budget for 2020-21 to almost £11 million. That increase in financial support has enabled the Department to approve a number of schemes to bolster the rural economy and sustain and increase its capacity.