Gildernew and McGimpsey launch initiative to improve health and well being in rural areas
06 July 2010
A major initiative aimed at helping the most vulnerable households in rural areas has been launched by Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew and Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.
Maximising Access to and Uptake of Grants, Benefits and Services is a joint initiative between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Public Health Agency (PHA). It aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people in rural areas who are living in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Based on a partnership model, government will work with various agencies, as well as members of the advice sector and the community and voluntary sector to encourage uptake of grants, benefits and services which people may not otherwise have known about or had the means to apply for, or avail of. As part of the initiative, 4,200 households in the most deprived rural areas will receive information and support in their own homes. Rural community organisations have been enlisted to co-ordinate the project in specified areas and 240 members of the local community are currently being recruited and trained as ‘enablers’ to undertake the home visits which will commence in early July.
Speaking at the project launch in Loughgiel, Michelle Gildernew said: "Poverty and exclusion in rural areas is often dispersed and hidden and seeking out the most needy members of our society can prove challenging.
"Evidence and experience indicate that access to the most difficult to reach and those suffering greatest inequalities and disadvantage requires a more innovative, extensive and personal approach to that traditionally used. That is what makes the local knowledge of community networks and groups crucial in the delivery of this initiative.
"Through their involvement as 'enablers' they have a key role to play in assisting the rural community organisations in identifying the most vulnerable households and in connecting them not only to the finances and benefits to which they are entitled, but also to advice and services that may also be beneficial to them. Evidence affirms that a holistic approach, such as this, can have a positive impact on health and well being by enabling people to play a more active role in local community life and in making connections with the wider community.”
Michael McGimpsey said: "Most people do not choose ill health and we continue to have a health gap between affluent areas and those living in deprived areas. Poor quality housing, unemployment and being cut off by poor public transport links become barriers to achievement, personal fulfilment and social inclusion.
“Local community projects such as this one become a vital lifeline to help improve the lives of many people living in poverty in rural Northern Ireland. I remain committed to addressing the health and well-being needs of people from rural areas to help bridge this gap, and I commend all those involved in bringing this about."
Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency, highlighted the importance of joint working and community action to effectively address the health needs of those living within rural localities.
He said: “A key focus for the Public Health Agency is to tackle health inequalities and to improve the health and social well being of the people in Northern Ireland, including those living within rurally isolated communities.
“This project is part of the Public Health Agency’s ongoing commitment to engage with local communities across Northern Ireland to improve health and tackle disadvantage. Through continued collaboration with key partners from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors we feel we can positively impact on the health and well being of those most in need.”
Notes to editors:
1.Thirteen zones, incorporating the top 88 most deprived rural super output areas, will benefit from this initiative.
2.Rural Community Organisations appointed to co-ordinate the project in each of these zones are: North Antrim Community Network; Cookstown and Western Shores Community Network; East Down Rural Community Network; Soth Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP); South Down Family Health Initiaitive; Strabane Rural Community Network; Dennett Interchange; Omagh Forum for Rural associations; and Fermanagh Rural Community Network.
3.Project partners include DARD, DSD (Social Security Agency & Housing Division – Fuel Poverty), PHA, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) Access to Benefits (A2B), National Energy Action (NEA) Northern Ireland Energy Agency (NIEA), Advice NI, Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and numerous Rural Community Organisations.
4.Programme for Government has made a commitment to address rural poverty and social exclusion and has allocated DARD a £10.4million package to address these issues over the budget years 08/09 – 10/11.
5.Information regarding other programmes currently being funded through DARD’s Anti Poverty and Social Inclusion Framework such as Rural Childcare and Rural Challenge Programmes is available on the Departments website.
6.All media enquiries should be directed to the DARD Press Office on 028 9052 4619. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.