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.
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.
The current Action Plan runs to the end of 2019 and we are engaging with communities throughout the country on a new Government rural development policy. An implementation plan for the Framework Policy for Local and Community Development in Ireland, published in 2016, is also currently at an advanced stage, and I am confident that these plans will propose further actions that will address isolation issues in our communities.
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. During 2018, spend on the Scheme amounted to almost €7 million, with over 19,200 applications for personal alarms approved. There have been a further 10,000 approved applications in the first six months of 2019. 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 Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, or SICAP, commenced a new five-year programme at the start of 2018, and is our country’s primary social inclusion intervention. This is a national programme that is delivered locally with funding of €190 million over a five-year period to help those in the greatest need.
- Support for approximately 400 Men’s Sheds across Ireland, with sheds present in all 32 counties, 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. Ireland continues to enjoy the highest per capita concentration of Men’s Sheds in the world. I provided funding of €500,000 to support the work of Men’s Sheds in 2018 and this year I have decided to build on that with a further €500,000 in recognition of the contribution these groups are making to life in Ireland. A number of Women’s Sheds have emerged in communities in recent times and in order to support this positive development I have decided to make this funding also available to these groups.
- The LEADER element of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which will provide €250 million in financial resources to address the challenges facing rural areas over the course of the programme period, particularly under the themes of economic development and social inclusion.
- Volunteering plays a critical part in empowering individuals to become more involved in their communities and is proven to assist with the development of mental health wellbeing. My Department is currently in the process of developing a draft National Volunteering Strategy which it is anticipated will be completed later this year.