The issue of isolation, whether in urban or rural areas, is one which requires a response containing a combination of policy initiatives and actions delivered across a number of Government Departments.
For my part, I am committed to continuing my Department's response to the issue, which includes ongoing contact with local and community groups and other stakeholders where appropriate to identify potential measures to assist communities affected.
Groups can also input into the policy-making process through the local structures established by my Department such as Public Participation Networks and Local Community Development Committees.
The publication on 7 December 2018 of the Call for Input Paper on Volunteering is the first step in developing a national volunteering policy. Volunteering plays a critical in empowering individuals to become more involved in their communities and is proven to assist with the development of mental health well-being.
The Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development and Framework Policy for Local and Community Development include a range of measures which will contribute significantly to addressing isolation and social inclusion in both rural and urban areas and as Minister for Rural and Community Development I will continue to advocate for a cross government approach to ensuring the rural and community voice is heard in relation to matters of policy.
Specific examples of actions being delivered by my Department which are helping those who feel isolated or vulnerable in communities include:
- Significant investment in the Seniors Alert Scheme, which facilitates valuable community-based support for vulnerable older people living alone. To the end of October, spend on the Scheme amounted to €5.5 million, with over 16,000 applications for personal alarms approved so far this year. This is an important programme which enables older persons of limited means to continue to live in their own homes at the heart of their communities with confidence, independence and peace of mind.
- The new five-year Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, or SICAP, which commenced at the start of 2018, is our country’s primary social inclusion intervention. This is a national programme that will be delivered locally with funding of €190 million over a five-year period to help those in the greatest need.
- Support for approximately 350 Men’s Sheds across Ireland which provide a safe space where men can gather and participate in their communities, develop social networks and potentially gain new skills and access information. In July I provided funding of €500,000 to support the work of Men’s Sheds throughout Ireland.
In addition, other actions in the Action Plan for Rural Development being delivered by Departments across government that will help those who feel isolated or vulnerable include:
- Investment of €46 million in Garda fleet to ensure that Gardaí are mobile, visible and responsive to prevent and tackle crime.
- Maintaining the network of senior helplines in operation throughout the country, which offer a listening service for older people to help address issues such as loneliness and isolation in rural areas.
- Continued support and prioritisation of community crime prevention through schemes such as Neighbourhood Watch and Text Alert.
- Continued improvements in the Rural Transport Programme, including the provision of new routes.