Junior Minister's Speech- United Nations International Day For Older People 2010 1st October 2010


Thank you Martina for your introduction. 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here today to the Lagan Valley Island Conference Centre to celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Older People.

This is the fourth year that we have celebrated Older People’s Day and I would like to welcome our guest speakers here today: - The Older People’s Advocate - Dame Joan Harbison and our guest speaker - Walter Love, BBC radio presenter.

You are all very welcome to today’s event.

Today’s event takes place during Age Awareness Week which is organised by the Changing Ageing Partnership to celebrate the diversity of older people’s lives; highlight the contribution older people make to our society and challenge negative attitudes to older people.

A great many events have been organised ranging from exhibitions to debates – from arts events to film screenings in a mobile cinema which has been at a number of venues including Belfast, Ballymoney and Strabane.

In fact I attended the launch of Age Awareness Week last Saturday at Queens University Physical Education Centre and saw the cinemobile for myself.  The films “Up” and “The Bucket List” were due to be screened throughout this week and I hope  that some of you here today were able to visit the cinemobile or enjoy some of the many other events. 

The theme of this year’s Age Awareness Week is Recognition. What does this mean?
• It’s about challenging negative attitudes towards older people ;
• its about recognising older people's skills,
• it’s about recognising their experience and achievements; and
•  It’s   about recognising the contribution they have made to our society.

We think that it is extremely important that society acknowledges the very valuable role that older people play in all areas of society and recognise that older people are a wonderful resource.

Older People contribute to economic, social and civic life in ways that can’t always be measured and in ways that many of us take for granted. For example:
• Caring for family members who are ill;
• Caring for grandchildren to allow sons and daughters to work;
• Participating in community and voluntary activities – including organising social get togethers like today.

People who hold the outdated stereotype view that “older people are a burden on society” need to remember that the society they enjoy and take for granted was built by the hard work of today’s older generation.

Statistics clearly show that people are now living longer and healthier lives than ever before and this is something that should be celebrated.

 However, the fact that people are living longer and the fact that there are increasing numbers of older people, brings significant challenges for Government in the years ahead. But challenges are also opportunities and we must seize this opportunity to plan for a society in which there will be greater numbers of older people than ever before.

In 2007 the pensioner population totalled almost 300, 000 – that’s roughly one sixth of the total population of here. Indeed within my own constituency of Belfast East we have the highest proportion of the population of pensionable age (21.4%) – that’s about one fifth of the total population. The number of people of current pensionable age is projected to increase by around 9% in the next five years and by around 40% - that’s nearly double - over the next fifteen years. [source: A Profile of Older People in Northern Ireland Published by OFMDFM August 2009)]

So it’s perhaps fitting that we are reviewing the Age Strategy. Dame Joan chairs the Advisory Panel who has made recommendations to us about what they think we should include in a new strategy.  And Dame Joan will maybe tell you a bit about her role in that later on.

But one thing is sure – we are all agreed that what we are working towards is a society in which everyone benefits from the opportunity to age well, make informed choices and participate fully in life.

But getting back to our theme of Recognition and challenging negative stereotypes.

This is a challenge that Government can’t tackle alone.
It needs each and every one of us to do our bit.

All of us have it within our power to tackle the kinds of attitudes that encourage the belief that older people are less useful and are less valuable.

Many of you here today belong to local and national groups. And it’s through your involvement with these groups who continue to challenge and press for change that the issues that concern you will be addressed.

Research shows that keeping active, both physically and mentally for as long as possible, either through work or by volunteering for a local club or group has health benefits and

allows you to not only meet new people but also reduces the risk of feeling isolated or lonely. So I would ask you all to encourage your friends to join your group and keep active and keep well.

I would just like to pass on my best wishes to you all and hope that you enjoy the rest of your day.

Thank You