I recently launched the “Safer Ageing” strategy for older people, which was developed in partnership with representatives from older people’s groups, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the Policing Board. The strategy sets out how Government and partners will work together to reduce the crime and antisocial behaviour experienced by older people in Northern Ireland.
While I welcome the new “Safer Ageing” strategy, is it not the case that the recent spate of burglaries and attacks on older people in Northern Ireland has had a devastating impact on the individuals affected, and will it not in turn have created a deeper fear of crime across the older population? What practical measures are there in the new plan to reduce that corrosive level of fear?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There has been considerable public concern in Northern Ireland about the spate of attacks on older people there, and the impact on individual older people is devastating. He is also right to say that not only does it have an impact on them as victims, but that it has a wider impact in terms of the fear of crime.
Two elements are very important here. The first is to have highly visible policing, which is certainly happening in the wake of the attacks. The second is the practical initiatives to which my hon. Friend referred, and I draw his attention to one in particular—the HandyVan scheme, which provides free locks, door chains, smoke alarms and other safety devices for older people. It helps them to feel safer, and it is an important initiative that my Department supports.
The Minister will be aware that there has been an increase in burglaries right across the Province of Northern Ireland. In my constituency, there have been at least 15 burglaries in three weeks in the town of Portadown, and in Lurgan and Banbridge. Does he agree that the reduction of 90 officers in Upper Bann and the closure of the Portadown police station are unacceptable at this time?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about any crimes that take place in his constituency, or indeed anywhere. However, he has referred to the loss of 90 posts in H district, but these are not police officers who are being cut out of the police provision for his area. These are 90 police officers who have been identified by the Chief Constable as officers whom the hon. Gentleman’s constituents never see because they do jobs in the back office. The Chief Constable wants to get them out of the back office and into the community, where they will be more visible and able to deliver a more personal policing service.