Pensioners who feel benefits they have worked long and hard for are under threat have said they are prepared to fight to protect them.
The ‘Hands Off’ campaign was launched yesterday across the UK, with around 30 members of Age Sector Platform attending a meeting in Belfast.
The aim of the campaign is to ensure benefits including the Winter Fuel Payment, television licence, free prescriptions and free bus and rail travel for older people are protected.
Some of those in attendance at the Europa Hotel yesterday spoke of a genuine fear among senior citizens that those benefits they feel entitled to and in need of may be scrapped.
Mary Marr, 66, from Newcastle, said she hears the worries of her peers almost every day.
“People are worried about whether they will have enough money to keep warm and eat,” the former health service worker told the News Letter.
“I hear people saying in general conversations that they are worried about getting older. They look at the predicament we are in and think ‘what’s it going to be like in another 10 years?’.”
Nixon Armstrong, a long-time advocate for older people’s rights, said the run-up to the general election is a vital time in ensuring the voices of senior citizens are heard.
“I think if the campaign we have is carried through with the same enthusiasm with which it began we can be successful,” said the 80-year-old Portadown man.
“We need to let people know there is a battle to be fought – our MPs know the grey vote is a very important vote.”
Ivan Baxter said the campaign is “vital”. “These benefits keep older people fit, healthy and active,” said the 73-year-old retired civil servant.
“We don’t envisage all of the benefits being targeted but the politicians have said they are going to examine them so we want to put pressure on them to show these benefits are still very much needed.”
Meanwhile, NI Conservatives’ spokesman, Brian McBride, said he wants to “set the record straight”, claiming the current Government has delivered for older people.
“The truth is that the Conservative-led Government has done a huge amount to give older people the best possible deal, by protecting benefits and raising the state pension at a significant rate,” said Mr McBride.
The campaign aims to gather 100,000 signatures of support and can be signed at www.handsoff.org.uk.