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 progress 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 role in empowering individuals to become more involved in their communities and is proven to assist with the development of mental health wellbeing as well as providing people with a sense of belonging.
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 exclusion 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:
- The Seniors Alert Scheme, facilitates community-based support for vulnerable older people living alone. During 2018, spend on the Scheme was €5.5 million, with over 19,200 applications for personal alarms approved.
- The new five-year Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) 2018, is our country’s national primary social inclusion intervention, delivered locally with funding of €190 million over a five-year period.
- In 2018 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.
- The Community Services Programme (CSP) supports over 400 community organisations to provide local services through a social enterprise model. More than €46 million is available to support community organisations under the programme in 2019.
- The LEADER Theme 2 – Social Inclusion, focuses on improving access to basic services for people living in rural and remote areas and groups who are at risk of social exclusion.