Saturday, July 20, 2024

Grey Power lobbies on Seniors’ concerns

Casey Costello, the Minister for Seniors and Associate Minister of Health, has responded to communications led by outgoing president Jan Pentecost during which key matters of concern to our community were stated.

Costello has responded, thanking Pentecost for their December meeting and for providing additional comment on areas of importance to Grey Power members.

“Hearing from you and your members helps me gain a better understanding of the key issues impacting older people,” wrote Costello.

In her communication with Grey Power, Costello addressed government thinking on a number of issues raised by Grey Power, including:

  • Retirement cost of living/inflation
  • Housing
  • Transport
  • Health
  • Law and order
  • NZ Superannuation and other supplementary benefits
  • Digital inclusion.

On retirement, cost of living/inflation, Costello said she was aware some older people were struggling to make ends meet, particularly those whose only source of income was NZ Superannuation. She said this government had committed to increasing NZ Superannuation every year.

“We have also committed to maintaining the Winter Energy Payment. These commitments, along with our tax relief plan, will see each superannuitant couple get over $600 extra each year,‘ she wrote.

Costello said there was also supplementary and hardship assistance available based on income and/or asset testing.

“I encourage those who need help with these costs to contact the Ministry of Social Development Senior Services line and check they are receiving their full and correct entitlement,” she wrote.

Housing

Improving housing affordability was also a priority for this Government, as we know that some older people are struggling to meet housing related costs, said Costello.

“We are exploring how we can best address this, including making it easier to build subsidiary dwellings and exploring how we safeguard the interests of those living in retirement villages.”

The government provides housing support through the Accommodation Supplement, which is designed to assist those facing high ho using costs on low incomes.

“As your letter notes, the Accommodation Supplement is income and asset tested,” wrote Costello.

Accommodation Supplement rates were last updated in April 2018, resulting in an increase in the maximum payment rates across all Accommodation Supplement areas.

“The Minister for Social Development and Employment has responsibility for the Accommodation Supplement and I understand she is considering advice from the Ministry for Social Development related to this.”

Reviewing the local government Rates Rebate scheme is a priority for this Government, said Costello.

Transport

Costello noted that Grey Power was supportive of an indefinite extension of half price public transport discounts for seniors. “I have shared this recommendation with the Minister of Transport, Hon Simeon Brown in addition to our engagement around rates rebate,” she said.

Health

Costello said the new government was continuing the work to build a modern, sustainable health system that delivers quality care for all New Zealanders.

“Key pieces of work set out in the Government’s 100-day-plan and the Coalition Agreement that will address the specific health concerns mentioned in your letter.”

These include:

Equitable, adequate access to home support and aged care facility beds

Work is underway to develop a new home and community support and aged residential care funding and service model. This aims to ensure all people can access these services equitably. It is due for completion later this year.

Aged care facility standard rooms provisions

Health New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) continues to work with the sector to ensure that older New Zealanders who cannot pay for premium rooms can access standard rooms.

Affordability of dental, optician and audiologist care

Government funding for oral care focuses primarily on universal services for children and adolescents. However, some support is available for adults to access dental care. Health NZ funds emergency dental treatment for eligible low-income adults, and specialist-level services for people with disabilities or medical complications.

Work and Income administers a Special Needs Grant for dental care, to a maximum of $1,000, to help the most vulnerable New Zealanders access oral health services.

Costello wrote that some people might be eligible for assistance with their vision and hearing through the Ministry of Disabled People – Whaikaha, or the Accident Compensation Corporation. Other financial assistance may be available to older people through Work and Income, depending on an individual’s situation.

Cutting wait times by training more doctors, nurses, and midwives and attracting overseas workers

Several initiatives are in place to increase the number of GPs trained each year, to 300 by 2026, with a particular focus on increasing Maori and Pacific GPs. This should significantly reduce wait times, which I know has a large impact on older New Zealanders, wrote Costello.

Free prostate testing for older men

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test is the most widely available test for the early detection of prostate cancer. Deciding whether to have a PSA test is a decision to be made with the advice of a GP. The laboratory cost of a GP-ordered PSA test is free.

Law and order

Costello said the safety of older people was extremely important to her in her role as Minister for Seniors, as well as Associate Minister of Police.

“I can understand why some seniors might feel vulnerable, even while older people experience crime at lower rates than other population groups,” she wrote. “That is why one of our government priorities is ensuring New Zealanders are safer from crime.”

The Office for Seniors is working with other government and non-government agencies on the prevention of elder abuse, wrote Costello. “This includes grants made to a small number of organisations through the Elder Abuse Prevention Fund and supporting the development of regional elder abuse networks which aim to support community-led prevention initiatives. Costello wrote that the Ministry of Social Development received funding for three years in Budget 2022 to support the development of new prevention approaches to the abuse of older people.

“There are also other supports available to older people who are or have experienced harm, including the Elder Abuse Response Service. Any person who is in danger should call 111 and ask for the police.”

NZ Superannuation and supplementary benefits

“As Minister for Seniors, I understand the importance and assurance of a stable, universal, and non means-tested superannuation scheme,” wrote Costello.

This was why the National and New Zealand First Coalition Agreement also guarantees that the superannuation age will remain at 65. “Securing a cross-party accord has also been raised by the Retirement Commissioner, and I look forward to meeting with her again soon to discuss this approach and further consider how we can support a future for NZ Superannuation.”

Digital inclusion

Costello wrote that, as you (Pentecost) have noted, the Office for Seniors is working towards digital inclusion for older people both by supporting older people to develop skills to access online content confidently and safely and also ensuring that those who are not online are able to access the information and services they need.

“When my officials become aware of particular issues, they work with the relevant organisation to advocate for older people who may be digitally excluded, and to work towards solutions,” she wrote.

“I am aware that moves towards digitising services have proved challenging for some of our older citizens. I understand that most agencies are generally aware of the impact of this and have been helping clients transition to other arrangements.”

Costello said she recommended that individuals contact agencies directly in the first instance. This served a dual purpose – the agency has direct information about how clients are impacted, and they can talk directly with individuals about alternative options most suitable for their situation.

Costello concluded: “Thank you again for your letter. I look forward to working with Grey Power New Zealand, to ensure we are improving the lives of older New Zealanders.”

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