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Maharey Speech To Retirement Villages Association

Tomorrow’s Lifestyle Today

Opening address to the Retirement Villages Association
Conference. Sky City Conference Centre.

Auckland. 24 May 2000.

Thank you for the opportunity to open this important conference of the Retirement Villages Association. The next two days promises a diverse range of topics and stimulating discussion.

The Association has done tremendous work in promoting high standards of practice amongst its members, guaranteeing excellent quality accommodation and care to residents in Association villages.

The Retirement Village concept has become increasingly popular as people move away from the quarter acre section and three-bedroom home and choose living arrangements more suitable to their needs.

Certainly this demand is reflective of our ageing society where people are living longer and healthier lives.

In fact we are ageing at a rate never experienced before.

Within 30 years the number of New Zealanders aged 65 years and over will more than double to almost one million people. At the same time, for every working-age person there will be twice as many people over 65.

Today I will speak on the implications this scenario has in the development of policies and strategies geared toward an ageing population.

The Government recognises its responsibility in ensuring older New Zealanders are seen as an essential part of our communities and that social policy supports positive ageing initiatives.

We are all ageing – how this affects us is determined by a number of factors including income, attitude, health, housing and education. But many New Zealanders have been marginalised by their inability to change the pressing social and economic circumstances in which they live.

One of the first acts of Government to raise income levels of older people was the restoration of the married couple rate of NZ Superannuation to a minimum of 65 percent of the average wage.

What this means is an extra $21 dollars a week in the hand for a married couple and $12 more for a single person.

To ensure that as a result of these increases, no superannuitant would lose entitlement to the Community Services Card, the Government increased the income thresholds at which people qualify for this benefit. In the meantime, the Disability Allowance entitlements of affected superannuitants have been preserved with a temporary programme. The Disability Allowance thresholds will increase later this year.

The Association asked that I discuss the policies relating to the Living Alone Payment. This payment was introduced in recognition that single superannuitants or veterans pensioners living alone face higher costs than those who share their accommodation.

Eligibility for this benefit is fairly complex and rests largely on the interpretation of what sharing household expenses means, what is a house or a flat, and how is living alone defined.

The legislation provides that an individual is considered to be living alone if they do not share their residence or household expenses with anyone who is 18 years and over, unless they are a dependent child or a temporary visitor, and occupy either,

 A house or flat, or
 A boat or craft, or
 A hotel room, motel unit, a room in a licensed boarding house, or a unit in a caravan park.

For this reason, the Living Alone Payment eligibility assessment needs to take account of the personal situation of the applicant.

The difficulties related to assessing eligibility were highlighted last year when two appeals to the Social Security Appeal Authority successfully challenged the interpretation that a house or flat must have a separate electricity meter. As a result of these two decisions a Ministerial Direction was made to clarify the policy and to assist with greater operational clarity.

While no immediate work is planned to simplify the test for the Living Alone Payment, it will be one of the matters considered as part of wider policy work on developing ways to help older people remain in their homes.

The development of the strategy for an ageing population is being led by the Minister for Senior Citizens. This strategy will be led and managed by the Ministry of Social Policy, in partnership with the Senior Citizens Unit and the Ministry of Health.

The Retirement Villages Association may be interested in contributing to this strategy and the Ministry of Social Policy will contact the association as part of the consultation process.

The ageing strategy is being developed alongside the review of the health system to ensure a coordinated approach.

The Government is making major changes to the structure of our health services to more fully reflect the changing needs of our society. An important aspect of this is examining the potential for a more integrated, comprehensive and specialised health and welfare system for older people.

As part of any review of our health system there needs to be careful evaluation of the existing support provisions across the social sector including supplementary assistance, disability services, home care services, the needs of caregivers and the means for ensuring quality standards.

The Labour / Alliance Coalition Government is working on developing a New Zealand Health Strategy and Disability Strategy to provide over arching strategies for the health and disability sector.

These strategies are currently in the public consultation and discussion stage of development with the final strategies due by December 2000.

Both these documents recognise the need for separate strategies for older people to address issues such as improved health service delivery and development of priority areas and targets for age related disability to enable full participation in society.

An important challenge for Government is the increasing demand for home support services. Older people generally prefer to live in their own homes until such time as this is no longer an option. There must be adequate services in place to support their choice.

The National Health Committee looked at home care services as part of their work on health care issues for older people. The final report, Health Care for Older People, will be released by my colleagues the honourable Lianne Dalziel the Minister for Senior Citizens and the honourable Ruth Dyson the Associate Minister of Health and Minister for Disability Issues.

Another report about to be released is the research undertaken during the International Year of Older Persons last year which looked at factors affecting the ability of older people to live independently. The findings of this research will contribute to policy development in this area.

While we recognise most people prefer to stay at home, we also have to remember that there may come a time when an older person becomes too frail to remain at home and family support and home care services can no longer meet their needs. In these instances residential care may be the only option.

This raises the spectre of asset testing and the fear that the financial resources of those admitted to care will be rapidly depleted in order to qualify for assistance.

A fear certainly grounded in fact.

Currently to qualify for assistance with residential fees a single or widowed person cannot have assets above $6,500, if you are a married couple in care you cannot have assets above $13,000 and if you are married with one partner in care you cannot have assets above $40,000.

Ironically this test adversely affects those who need help most.

 Older people whose only asset is the cash from the sale of their home when they went into care.

 Women, because they traditionally live longer are subjected to the test over a longer period of time

There is also the added risk that an older person, in order to protect their assets, may delay going into care even though this may be the best option for their wellbeing.

To address these concerns the Government intends to introduce legislation removing asset testing from all forms of long stay residential care. However, as we have made clear, this matter will have to be considered alongside other social spending priorities.

Quality of care is also a pressing issue. Residential services must provide a level and quality of care that guarantees the safety and needs of older residents.

New standards for residential care will be introduced from 1 July 2000. These are part of the Health and Disability Sector Services Bill currently awaiting its third reading.

Under this Bill an accreditation or certification system will replace the current licensing regime for residential care services. This has involved extensive consultation with residential care providers regarding this policy.

Existing licensed services will have a transitional period of two years to meet new standards. Those providers who have already undergone the Retirement Villages Association accreditation process may find it easier to reach the new standards than those who have not.

It is clear as we consider the different factors affecting older people that preparing for an ageing population requires us to consider a number of interrelated issues.

Retirement income is clearly an issue. We are entering the traditional retirement years healthier with each generation, and our expectations of retirement are changing too. This clearly reinforces the need for people like you and I to plan for an enjoyable retirement.

However, saving for a traditional retirement is not the only consideration, we must also develop policies that ensure that all New Zealanders have the capacity to age positively and participate in society.

Changes to the Human Rights legislation last year effectively removed compulsory retirement.

The Government is working to identify issues that impact upon the older worker and the barriers to their continued participation in the workplace.

This includes the promotion of mentoring programmes to employ the tremendous knowledge and experience of the older worker. It also includes an investigation of transition to retirement issues, such as flexible work practices.

However, it also raises the need to consider strategies to reduce the risk of long term unemployment amongst older people.

Given that we are stronger and healthier than ever before, there is clearly a need for sound processes and action to plan for an ageing population.

Our perception and experience of ageing is shaped by the attitude of society towards older people.

The Retirement Villages Association is in a powerful position to challenge perceptions that retirement villages are places where older people go to get away from the rest of society.

While often these villages are promoted on the basis that they offer all facilities for their residents we should not lose sight of the fact that older people have a wealth of experience to offer the wider community.

This was certainly made apparent last year in the celebration of the International Year for Older Persons.

Both voluntary organisations and employers are seeing the huge pool of talent that exists in older New Zealanders, and older people themselves are increasingly seeking the satisfaction that voluntary work or community activity can bring.

This is fortunate, for as we know, more and more women are entering the workforce depleting the traditional source of voluntary labour in communities. It is older New Zealanders who will be increasingly taking over the role as the social 'glue' that binds communities together.

While certainly it is up to the resident to decide the level of external involvement they wish to have, the Association has an obligation to ensure opportunities exist.

I would like to see the association lead the way in promoting intergenerational activities in its retirement villages and the involvement of residents in local schools.

The visibility of older people in our communities is vital for developing positive attitudes to ageing and the contribution to a happy and healthy society.

Thank you.


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