My Department has, since 1996, operated the scheme of community support for older people, the purpose of which is to provide funding for initiatives to improve the security and social support of vulnerable older people. This funding is provided by way of grant to voluntary groups and organisations such as St. Vincent de Paul, Neighbourhood watch and community alert who have undertaken to identify those elderly people in need of assistance under the scheme.
Under the scheme grants are available for small-scale physical security equipment such as strengthening of doors and windows, window locks, door chains and locks and security lighting; and socially-monitored alarm systems, (such as the pendant or button alarm system which is operated via the telephone and is worn around the wrist or neck). When this Government came into office in June 1997, the multi-annual budgets for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 for this scheme had been set by the previous Rainbow Government at £2 million in each year. In 1997, I requested the Government to increase this £2 million for that year by £3 million to £5 million and that was agreed. Having reviewed the level of demand under the scheme last year I sought and obtained Government approval for the allocation of an additional £3 million to the scheme, bringing the total allocation in 1998 to £5 million.
Since its inception in 1996 a total of £12.6 million has been made available for this scheme and up to the end of 1998 some 56,000 people had been assisted by the scheme. This means that since I came into office, this Government has spent £10 million on this scheme as opposed to £2 million spent by the previous Government.
Taking account of the demand that has existed in relation to the scheme in previous years, a total of £5 million again has been allocated by the Government to the scheme for 1999. On the basis of 1997 and 1998 experience, it is anticipated that in excess of 21,000 people will benefit under the scheme this year, making a total of approximately 77,000 since the scheme started.