The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2012 found that, while the overall level of poverty in Northern Ireland is on a par with the rest of the United Kingdom, there are some regional differences.
The poverty rate is:
- Lower in Northern Ireland than Great Britain for children (28% compared with 30%)
- Similar for working-age adults (20% compared with 21%)
- Higher for pensioners (21% compared with 16% after housing costs deducted & 28% compared with 20% before housing costs deducted)
The report offers the following reasons for the higher level of poverty among pensioners:
- 40% of single pensioners and 25 % of couples have no income other than the State Pension and Pension Credit compared to 20% and 5% in the United Kingdom as a whole.
- The proportion of employees aged 45-64 in Northern Ireland who are not contributing to a pension is 38% compared to 32% in Great Britain.
In this context of a higher level of poverty among pensioners, benefit uptake initiatives directed towards pensioners are especially important:
- Since 2005 around 112,000 invitations have been issued to older people offering a benefit assessment which considers eligibility for all social security benefits as well as a range of other allowances and services.
- Over 247,000 mail shots have been issued to older people to raise awareness of State Pension Credit.
- To date, the Benefit Uptake Programme has generated additional annual benefits and arrears of approximately £37.6m of which almost £31m relates to additional awards of State Pension Credit and other benefits specitific to over 60s.
- An Outreach to Older People Approach has been in place since 2009. It aims to reach older people, who have potential additional entitlement, through promotional material advertising a Freephone benefits advice number. This approach uses trusted community partners such as community groups, specific older people's groups, faith based organisations, GP surgeries and pharmacies and also the provision of informal talks in similar settings, generating a further 1,403 benefit entitlement checks.
- The 'Make the Call 'Campaign was launched in November 2011, to advertise a freephone number to encourage older people to find out if they were missing out on benefits. So far, over 15,000 calls have been received and monitoring indicates that 40% of callers have potential entitlement.
- £375,000 has been allocated through the Innovation Fund for Increasing Benefit Uptake to 7 new projects being taken forward by the community and voluntary sector to test new and innovative ways of reaching people with potential unclaimed benefit entitlement. Two of the projects being funded are specifically targeting older people.
- Service delivery improvements have also been made in recent years to mitigate the risk that customers find the claim process difficult. When a customer calls to make a claim to State Pension they are asked if they would like to find out more about State Pension Credit and, if interested, the customer is transferred to a dedicated State Pension Credit claim line at which stage an enhanced tele-claims system is in operation which results in around 90% of claims being taken by telephone, without the need for customers to complete paper application forms.