Northern Ireland

Cost-saving measures may have negative impacts on elderly and disabled – report

Public transport provision in Northern Ireland will be affected by budget cuts (Liam McBurney/PA)
Public transport provision in Northern Ireland will be affected by budget cuts (Liam McBurney/PA)

Cost-saving measures within a Stormont department may have particularly negative impacts on disabled and older people, an equality impact assessment has warned.

The Department for Infrastructure has previously said that streetlights could be turned off in Northern Ireland and roads remain ungritted in winter months due to a budget crisis.

The department said it had been left with a 14% cut in its funding and a deficit of more than £100 million following the recent budget set by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

The department has now launched a public consultation on the equality implications of funding proposals.

President Biden visit to the island of Ireland
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has set a budget for Stormont departments (Liam McBurney/PA)

The document said: “Given this funding position, the permanent secretary is considering further actions, including; reducing already limited day-to-day expenditure across the department; ceasing road safety advertising and other road safety schemes for the second year; ceasing the Active School Travel programme; ceasing support for planning advice that is provided through a grant to community places, and reducing maintenance at Crumlin Road Gaol.

“The department’s arm’s-length bodies, including NI Water and Translink, will also be required to make significant cuts to live within their budget allocations and the department will be working closely with them on the service impacts.”

The document then sets out a number of proposed cost-saving measures on which final decisions have not been taken.

These include:

– reducing public transport provision;

– impacting water and wastewater services;

– road maintenance and flood risk management operational activities being reduced to emergency-only services;

– no funding for community transport;

Winter weather Dec 13th 2018
Road gritting services over winter months could be impacted by funding issues (Steve Parsons/PA)

– streetlights being switched off;

– no road gritting service provided this winter.

The document said: “These remaining options are not within the power of the permanent secretary to take under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation Etc.) Act 2022.

“While the department is still considering equality implications through the screening process … early indications are that these proposals may have negative impacts on older and disabled people in particular.”

It continued: “Major potential impacts have been identified as a result of potential reductions to public transport and community transport.

“Older people, who normally make up approximately 20% of Metro passengers, 16% of NIR (Northern Ireland Rail) passengers and 13% of Ulsterbus passengers, and 57% of community transport users, require a service level to meet their normal daily needs which may include access to shops, friends and community facilities as well access to health and care services.”

It added: “Any reductions to public transport would disproportionately impact on individuals with a disability as these are key users of these services.”

The public consultation will remain open until August 7.