We must tackle isolation and identify and support pockets of deprivation and need
Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on Social Protection and Community, Labour Senator Mark Wall called on the Government to learn from the great work of volunteer groups during Covid and build a national community support plan to tackle isolation.
Senator Wall said:
“The spirit of ‘meitheal’ has been to the fore since March 2020. Community groups and volunteers have been fundamental to protecting society during the pandemic. Volunteers selflessly went on the frontline from checking in on elderly relatives, delivering groceries to those living in isolation and donating money to causes in need. The Government must learn from these volunteers and group and harness their expertise to tackle isolation and deliver supports to those who need it most.
“Unfortunately, much of this need and isolation is as a result of communities being effectively abandoned by successive governments, including deeply disadvantaged urban areas and rural towns and villages where most commercial activity has ceased. We need to fund urban regeneration and development projects, and foster community bodies and social enterprises focused on community development work.
“For years, the State has relied on voluntary organisations to provide hot meals, which is just not good enough, nor does it ensure that everyone who needs to support receives it. There’s a need for a national strategy on the provision of hot meals. Such a strategy must also address the fundamental underlying inequality in society that leads to the need for these food kitchens.
“Covid also showcased just how important primary care facilities are in communities. Our pharmacists and GPs also played a hugely important role intervening at a community level to manage outbreaks and inform communities of the best defence against the virus. We need to expand the role of advanced nurse practitioners, physician associates and community pharmacists to help fill the gap in localities throughout the country.
“We need to look at how we can develop and retain skills at a community level. Government should consider improving Community Employment schemes, including allowing for long-term CE schemes in non-profit organisations for people who have disabilities or who have been distant from the labour market for a long time. The State needs to reach out at a community level, and involve people not currently engaging with the labour market in these schemes.
“Irish people are doers, and have worked hard throughout the pandemic to help those who need it most. Government needs to step up and reflect on the power of the State and public agencies to make communities and society at large work better and fairer.”