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Dyson: Address to Age Concern Tauranga

Address to Age Concern Tauranga: A fairer deal for Senior Citizens from 1 July

1 July sees the introduction of a range of new measures aimed at giving older New Zealanders a fairer deal.

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10.30am RSA Club, Cameron Rd, Tauranga


Good morning everyone.

I'd like to acknowledge your president Lorraine Wilson and thank her for inviting me to speak at your AGM today.

As Minister for Senior Citizens, I welcome this opportunity to engage with members of Age Concern. Your organisation is a strong and effective advocate for older New Zealanders. You provide a valuable link between government policy and the delivery of many social services to older people. Labour places great value on our relationship with you, and it's clear to us that Age Concern wants to be engaged and wants to be involved in discussions with government.

It is one of the reasons that we enjoy a positive, constructive relationship with Age Concern at both national and local levels. It's great to have an organisation we can rely on and that we can approach about issues and concerns, and know we will get a straight, well informed answer and practical solutions.

Labour and Age Concern share a common goal: to ensure that all New Zealanders are able to maintain active, fulfilling lives in their later years, and participate fully in our communities. Your document "Challenge the Future - A Society for All Ages" outlines that vision. Labour expresses its commitment to this goal in the Positive Ageing Strategy. Launched in 2001, the Positive Ageing Strategy provides a framework for central and local government to work towards the ten goals of positive ageing, in areas like health, income, safety, and ageing in place.

Each year I report to Parliament on what agencies have achieved under the Strategy, and what they intend to achieve over the coming year. I am delighted to report that the number of agencies contributing to the Action Plan is increasing each year - and so is our progress towards achieving the Strategy's goals.

I'm proud of what's been achieved by the Labour- led government and this Saturday, 1 July, sees the introduction of a range of new measures aimed at giving older New Zealanders a fairer deal.


Rates Rebates
With rising property values, rates can be a burden on households with fixed incomes. So from July 1 of this year, we are increasing the maximum annual rebate from $200 to $500 and widening the eligibility for assistance.

As a result, a couple living on NZ Superannuation (which is just over 25 thousand dollars a year) will be now eligible for a rebate of $234 if the rates bill for their home is $1,500. The government's investment will assist around 300,000 people a year compared with the four thousand who claimed a rebate in the previous year.

NZ Super
This term, as part of our Confidence and Supply agreement with New Zealand First, we've increased the floor for New Zealand Super to not less than 66% of the Average Ordinary Time Weekly Wage for a married couple.

From 1 July, around 2000 superannuitants with a spouse or partner in long-term residential care will be eligible to be paid the single, Living Alone rate of New Zealand Super.

This is an increase of $59 a week - or over $3 thousand a year - for a superannuitant living alone; and an increase of $39.36 per week - or over $2 thousand a year - for a superannuitant sharing with another person. This change reverses a discriminatory situation that has existed since 1993.

Asset testing phase out
The next stage in the phase out of income and asset testing for people in aged residential care comes into effect on 1 July. Single people and couples with both partners in care will be able to keep up to $160,000 in assets - up from $150,000 currently - before they are used to contribute to the cost of their care. The exemption thresholds will increase by $10,000 each year, progressively removing asset testing.

Also from 1 July this year, the removal of the 'sharing expenses rule' takes effect. In the past, this rule has prevented some single superannuitants from getting the Living Alone payment if their families are helping to pay for some household expenses, such as rates.

And we are extending the period of time a person can continue to receive superannuation or Veteran's Pension while they are working voluntarily for an aid agency overseas, from one year to three years. This will allow volunteers to complete the usual two year assignment with the option of staying on for a further year if they wish.

This Labour-led government is committed to strengthening New Zealand families, young and old, so that all New Zealanders are able to maintain active, fulfilling lives, and participate fully in our communities. We want all New Zealanders to have the support they need to be secure.

Paid work
Even with our universal Superannuation, it is frankly not a lot to live on. For that and one other reason, that being how short we are of workers - I would like Age Concern to consider two things. One is being part of a programme to promote more over 65 year olds to work part or full time - in short term jobs or longer, whatever suits. Many want the opportunity and the extra cash and we can work together to change employers' attitudes and make those jobs available.
The second thing is continuing to debate the need for improved retirement savings.

Ensuring more affordable housing
The Labour Government has introduced income-related rents for all low-income state house tenants. We have also extended eligibility for the accommodation supplement to include retirement village residents who have a licence-to-occupy agreement and who have high accommodation costs and limited resources. This came into force on 1 July last year.

We also passed the Retirement Villages Act 2003, which provided for a major shift in the balance of power within villages in favour of the residents and a Code of Practice should be completed this year.

Access to lower cost health care
Since July 2004, everyone aged 65 or over enrolled with a Primary Health Organisation (or PHO) has been eligible to get cheaper visits to their family doctor or nurse. And everyone aged 65 or over enrolled with a Primary Health Organisation now only pays a maximum of $3 for prescribed medicines that are fully subsidised by the government.

From this Saturday, 1 July, these benefits will also be extended to New Zealanders aged 45 to 64 enrolled in a PHO - cheaper GP fees and $3 for each fully subsidised medicine.

Orthopaedic and cataract surgery projects
In another important initiative, we have made significant progress on our orthopaedic surgery project. In Budget 2004 we announced that we aimed to double the number of major hip and knee replacement operations being funded by the public health system within the next four years.

We did so in recognition of the lifestyle benefits resulting from people being able to continue taking an active part in society.

In 2004-05 the project cost $30 million and led to an additional 1890 operations. The project's annual cost will increase to $70 million by 2007-08, when the number of major joint operations performed will be twice the current level.

Between July 2005 and February 2006, District Health Boards have delivered 4801 procedures, and are on track to deliver the planned 7733 procedures around the country. For the 2006/2007 financial year it is the increased funding will deliver between 8,340 and 8,560 major joint operations.

Budget 2005 funded a cataracts project, similar in design to the orthopaedic project.

Between July 2005 and February 2006, District Health Boards around the country have delivered 5,772 cataracts operations, and are on track to deliver more than the 8733 planned procedures. Planning and funding for this financial year means that a total of between 9,990 and 10,236 cataract procedures will be delivered in 2006-07.

This year's Budget adds $750 million to the total Health Vote. Over the past seven budgets we've undertaken the largest public hospital building programme in New Zealand's history, lowered the cost of doctor's visits for many New Zealanders and put our communities back in charge of how health dollars are spent.

Keeping electricity costs down
Regulations making the provision of a low fixed charge tariff by electricity retailers compulsory came into force on 1 October 2004. Retailers must offer a tariff option with a fixed daily charge of no more than 30 cents per day (before GST, and after prompt payment discount). As the Prime Minister has said publicly - more needs to be done.

Driver Licensing and transport
In December this year, we will abolish the mandatory requirement for age-based driving tests for people aged eighty years and over. Neither the government nor older people were happy with the previous rules surrounding driver licences and older people. The regime was costly on older people, it was stressful, and it was unfair.

Abolishing the mandatory driving tests for over-eighty year olds was one of the recommendations from the Stakeholder Consultative Group that reviewed older driver licensing policy. The purpose of the review was to make the older driver licensing system fairer and more user-friendly, while still safeguarding driver and public safety.

Under the new system, GPs will still provide a "medical fitness to drive" certificate to patients at ages 75 and 80, and every two years after that. GPs will also be able to refer patients aged 75 and over to an on-road driving test if they have doubts about their ability to drive safely.

To support these changes, new education and information packages are available for older drivers and their families. The Government is providing an additional $500,000 a year to expand the Safe with Age classroom road safety courses, with the aim of reaching about 8,000 drivers over the next three years. And from 1 July next year, Government will subsidise half the costs of private on-road driving lessons for Safe with Age graduates who want to further improve their driving skills.

For older people who no longer drive to get around, the Office for Senior Citizens in the Ministry of Social Development has produced the pamphlet 'Coping without a Car', providing advice to older people on preparing for life as a non-driver. The pamphlet has been widely distributed and is getting very positive feedback.

Total Mobility
As for transport by taxi or taxi van, the Government recently doubled the budget for the Total Mobility scheme, allowing for a 60% increase in users. Administered by local authorities, Total Mobility provides taxi vouchers to people with serious mobility constraints, providing usually a 50% discount on the cost of taxi travel. The Scheme also provides funding assistance for wheelchair hoists in taxi vans.

Last year, the Government completed a comprehensive review of the Total Mobility Scheme. We consulted widely with scheme users to identify possible improvements in areas like eligibility, entitlement, and regional consistency. The report was released in August last year, and the next step is to begin implementing the recommended changes towards a fairer and more equitable Scheme.

Conclusion

So - a lot has been achieved and there is more still to come. Work is progressing on the Enduring Power of Attorney and the Code of Practice for Home Equity Release Schemes, the Golden Age Card for seniors, and most importantly, work on society's attitudes to the elderly with the extending and strengthening of services to prevent elder abuse.

Older people should be honoured for the contribution they make to New Zealand today and have made in the past. As just one example, the Labour-led Government has helped to restore New Zealanders' pride in the efforts of those who have served in the armed forces in times of war by placing greater emphasis on the proper commemoration of anniversaries of past battles. In this, the Year of the Veteran, we had a special medal struck for those who served in our armed forces. And we took the decision to inter an unknown New Zealand warrior, buried for over eighty-five years in a cemetery in northern France, in a special Tomb in Wellington.

I'm delighted to see older people throughout New Zealand getting involved in Community Patrols, which work with Police to make our communities safer, and with the SAGES scheme, which provides mentoring and home help advice to young families. I congratulate Age Concern for your contribution to what this Government has achieved so far for older people. You have been a strong driving force behind much of our work.

Thank you once again for inviting me to speak with you.


ENDS

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