Jobs And Beds At Risk With Health Cut Concerns

The likely closure of residential care homes is another major concern across the province. In Belfast, the avenues available to people to allow them to challenge any closures were discussed. When the subject of legal action came up, barrister Alban Maginess said;
“The problem with going down the legal route is the length of time it would take and also the expense that it will take.” He did offer that the best route to go down would be ‘political pressure’ which has saved a few homes in recent weeks already. UUP’s health spokesperson spoke of the Health Minister’s reassurances that no residents would be left without a home but he also went on to say that each home would be looked at individually;
“It will depend on where it is, the usage, the state of it and how many residents it has.”

Is it true that the people making these decisions have no experience of the environments they are legislating for? Do you have any personal experiences that the Assembly can learn from with regards to residential care homes?

Health, how to lobby a cross departmental issue

A representative of the Multiple Sclerosis Society mentioned how difficult and confusing it could be to get her charity’s messages across to the right people when there are cross-departmental issues. She asked the panel what would be the best way to approach the MS Society’s lobbying.
Alban Maginess gave a comprehensive answer;
“Anyone that’s lobbying should select the people that they wish to lobby. Every political party has spokespersons on the subject that you want. You must approach them personally. The idea of simply writing to people is wasteful.”
Nelson McCausland echoed Alban Maginess’ suggestion of establishing an All Party Group in the Assembly as a good starting point.

The issue here seems to be that sometimes different departments have trouble working together productively and simply. Is this an issue that needs addressing or have you ever had trouble lobbying different departments on the same issue?

Concerns Raised Over The Lack Of Awareness For Those With Hearing Difficulties

Health is always a major issue, but one disability which often doesn’t get the attention it warrants is deafness. One audience member raised the issue that there are thousands of people in this country who have hearing difficulties that can make everyday life a real struggle.
On this topic the MLAs all agreed that more should be done and Francie Molloy suggested that the Assembly being in its infancy may have hindered progress;
“The Assembly is at a very early stage but its one of the issues where we have to change legislation to ensure there is a quality of life delivered for the public.” Anna Lo echoed these concerns saying ‘we don’t do enough’ for people who are hard of hearing. She also felt that the department and committee should do more to ‘enhance accessibility’ for people who suffer from deafness and partial deafness.

Do you feel that local businesses, shops and administrative buildings do enough to help those who struggle with hearing? Is this something that affects you? If so what changes would you like to see?

Green Policies To Combat The Twin Issues Of Climate Change And Recession

The creation of ‘green’ jobs in the US is something that could improve climate change problems and the recession. Public works and the creation of a green economic stimulus is, someone claimed, one area our government could improve to help with employment and the environment.

Could our local government implement some policies to invest in renewable energies and to create new jobs? Should public sector organisations lead the way with recycling and sustainability?

Cost Cutting and Effective Committees at The Assembly

The work of the Assembly was directly questioned as someone raised their concerns that Assembly Committees ‘don’t have power to change anything’. This was coupled with the subject of the Assembly’s ability or inability to cut its costs.
Nelson McCausland believes that the Committee system at present needs addressed. He said: “They could be sharpened up. We could learn a lot from Westminster.”
John McCallister agreed saying that: “I don’t think we’re fully at the races and we’re on a steep learning curve.”
On the issue of improving services and cutting costs, Alban Maginness highlighted his party’s initiatives as they feel it is a ‘time to rethink the economy’.

The person asking this question claimed that everyone he knows could think of ways to improve services and cut costs. In the current economic climate, what are your suggestions?

MLAs Highlight The Importance Of Reaching Out To Voters

Poor voter turnout was also on the agenda in Belfast as MLAs were asked for their suggestions to improve voter turnout and how the electorate could use their vote better.
John McCallister suggested taking a leaf from the latest US elections and connecting with people on the ground: “In our own constituencies, we have to engage with people and groups on a vast range of issues.”
There was a suggestion that local politics had become bogged down in constitutional issues when the electorate had moved on. Francie Molloy went on to suggest that politics need to work better and deliver more and then the democratic process would appeal more to people and encourage them to vote.

Do you agree that a higher level of successful engagement between politics and constituents would encourage more to vote? And do you, or does anyone you know decline to vote? Also what do you think of Anna Lo’s concerns that ethnic communities are not using their votes?

MLAs In Agreement Over Savings Threshold For Benefits

There were confused looks at the Belfast Roadshow when panellists were told that pensioners were assumed to be getting 10% on their savings when being assessed for income-related benefits. This has led to thrifty pensioners being penalised for having savings.
The 10% rate had John McCallister surprised; “Where would you get 10% on savings now? It shouldn’t be allowed.”
Alban Maginness agreed saying it was ‘grossly unjust.’
Anna Lo added the point that; “We are not encouraging people to have savings.” She highlighted the imbalance whereby people are better off having no savings and claiming benefits.

Is this something that affects you? Share your thoughts with us below on the topic.