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Goodhew: AGM Of Grey Power NZ Federation

Jo Goodhew

7 MAY, 2014

Speech: Annual General Meeting of Grey Power NZ Federation Inc.

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou.

Thank you very much to the Grey Power Federation Board, delegates, and observers for having me here today, and a special thank you to your President, Roy Reid, for his introduction.

My time as Senior Citizens Minister has seen a number of engagements with the Grey Power membership, through your annual conferences, the visits of your Executive to Wellington, speaking opportunities with Grey Power groups around the country and some one on one contact as well. I want to acknowledge the time that you all give as members to lobby and advocate for improvements in the lives of New Zealand’s older citizens.

So having established that we all want the same end result for older New Zealanders, that they all remain healthy, independent, connected and respected as far as that is possible, that brings me to your request, that I talk about what I have achieved in the portfolio and what the priorities will be as we look ahead.

Last year I published a document entitled ‘Older New Zealanders: Healthy, Independent, Connected and Respected. This document brought together information across multiple government departments relating to services available for older New Zealanders, each of them contributing to one or more of the tenets we are striving for, on behalf of older New Zealanders.

The document also demonstrates our commitment to the Positive Ageing Strategy.

This Strategy lays out a vision of New Zealand where people can age positively, where older people are highly valued, and where they are recognised as an integral part of our families and communities.

One of the key factors in achieving our vision for older New Zealanders is good health. Being fit and healthy is important at any age to get the most out of life, but it becomes even more important as we age.

The Government is committed to helping older people maintain their health, and we are always looking for ways to support older people to live fulfilling, active and independent lives. It is important for governments to look at ways to prevent cost being a barrier to healthcare. The Government is doing a lot in this area.

People who go to the doctor at least 12 times a year may be eligible for a High Use Health Card. This card reduces the fees you pay for prescription medicines and casual doctors’ visits.

There is also the Pharmaceutical Subsidy Card which caps prescription fees at $100 per year if you collect a high number of prescriptions in a short amount of time.

Finally the Community Services Card reduces the amount you have to pay to see the doctor if you have a low income.

We are also increasing funding to Care Plus, an initiative that supports people with high health needs due to chronic conditions, acute medical or mental health needs, or terminal illness.

In the year 2012 to 2013, the Government invested over $50 million in the Care Plus programme. In January 2014, there were over 80 000 people aged 65 and over enrolled in Care Plus.

While Government does not control the fees charged by GPs, we can help to keep the cost of doctors’ visits down. GPs can join a Government scheme that subsidises the cost of a visit to the doctor if a majority of their patients are on low incomes.

However cost is not the only barrier to good health. Access to good information is also very important.

The Government has published guidelines for older people on a range of topics, such as food and nutrition, physical activity and oral health.

We also want older people to be able to get out and enjoy their independence. This is where the SuperGold card comes in.

The SuperGold card provides free off-peak public transport like BusSmart here in Invercargill, allowing older people to visit family and friends, and access services they need.

However, as you already know, because you also have a very useful discount card, the benefit of the card can be so much more that a vehicle for politicians to offer free stuff on. I also know that you folk are of a generation that understands that here is no such thing as “free” that someone always pays. So while I have been Minister, I have made it a high priority to leverage more and more valuable discounts (not tax payer funded) for you to use.

The updated projections from the 2011 Business of Ageing report also released last year made it abundantly clear that 635,000 cardholders as a customer group should not be ignored, but in fact should be actively courted for business.

So what did you tell me you find valuable in the way of discounts? Universally I was told that discounts on unavoidable expenses are the best and that such discounts will make it easier to make ends meet.

So let’s take Invercargill as an example. Fuel, pharmacy, vets fees, reading glasses, tyres, WOF, shoes, plumbers and home handyman supplies. These are just a few of the 143 discounts in Invercargill. We will shortly be targeting more discounts from legal services firms and more in the range of health and welfare including dentists, podiatrists and physiotherapists.

Over the last two years the number of participating businesses has more than quadrupled. Frankly, before that many folk in provincial NZ left the card at home because there wasn’t any public transport in their town and they were not convinced of the value of the other discounts. That had to change and it has.

At the end of January 2014, there were 6,551 participating businesses representing 11,161 outlets throughout New Zealand. It is great to see Grey Power promoting this service through a link on their website to the SuperGold card page.

Social isolation is another issue faced by many older New Zealanders.

I have seen how successful community-based programmes can be at combating social isolation.

Napier Connects is an example of local people working together to tackle social isolation amongst their older residents. They have some great initiatives underway, such as a Village Walkers group, a mentoring programme for tertiary students, and a garden clean-up group with the Napier City Youth Council.

Local solutions by local people

Initiatives like this are best led by groups within a local community. I know that there are a range of groups throughout the country and I believe you have representatives working on these groups. I know that the Office for Senior Citizens Volunteer Community Coordinators work on these groups and Community Advisors from Department of Internal Affairs also assist in a lot of cases.

An area where our older people need special protection – and a priority for me as the Minister for Senior Citizens – is preventing elder abuse and neglect.

Some people become more vulnerable to abuse and neglect as they age. They may not have access to information about their rights. They may not have a protective social network. They may even be unaware that they are being abused or neglected.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or financial.

However it happens, the consequences for an older person can be devastating at a time when they are supposed to be enjoying their golden years.

The Government is committed to improving our knowledge of, and responding to, elder abuse and neglect.

The Government funds 24 Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention services across the country at a cost of $1.6 million a year. A recent analysis about where the abuse is occurring and also where the widest gaps in services are found has resulted in the Government providing funding of $170 000 for two new elder abuse and neglect prevention services in Wairoa and Kawerau (likely to be located in Rotorua). These new services will complement the 24 specialist elder abuse and neglect prevention services that the Government already funds across the country at a cost of $1.6 million a year.

Another important part of protecting yourself is planning ahead. An Enduring Power of Attorney, or an EPA, is a legal instrument which allows you to decide in advance who you would like to make decisions on your behalf, if you become incapable of doing so.

In 2007 the Government made a number of amendments to the legislation that provides for EPAs to improve the protections available for vulnerable people. Last year, I reviewed these changes. As part of the review we consulted the general public, health and legal professionals, and advocacy groups.

Indeed Roy Reid is part of the reference group for this review, and Grey Power kindly assisted by helping to publicise the consultation process with a link on their web page through to the MSD website.

The public consultation raised a number of issues with the way EPAs are operating. These include things like cost being a barrier, ensuring accountability for attorneys and simplifying the process for putting an EPA in place.

I will report on my findings and recommendations to Parliament next month.

This has been an example of what the Government has been doing to achieve the vision of health, independence, connection and respect. These are the priorities most connected to my portfolio of Senior Citizens. As you know I have a wider role as the Minister of other things, and also as a member of the Executive, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of quick facts, before we move to questions.

Under National, Superannuation will remain at 66% of the average wage at 65 years of age.

The married rate of Super has gone up by $249 a fortnight and the single living alone rate by $162 a fortnight since 2008.

This means Superannuation has increased by 28% between 1 April 2008 – 1 April 2014. Over the same period, overall inflation has risen 15%.

In the last five years, we have invested an additional $500 million on average each year in health.

I have made it my priority to improve aged residential care auditing, introducing unannounced spot audits in 2009, third party accreditation for the audit agencies, online summaries of audit reports and since last November full audits online.

Medication errors happen too often in aged residential care so we provided a Medicines Care Guide for providers and early signs are that it is improving the situation.

Each year we have delivered at least 4000 more elective surgeries than the year before, and while the total continues to grow, we have also required the waiting time to reduce. That is more patients, treated sooner.

We have put more than 600 extra Police on the streets and crime is now at its lowest in 33 years.

We have launched an updated Carers Strategy with planning out over the next five years.

We make no apology for continuing our work to strengthen New Zealand’s economy as it has been through that strong economic management that we have returned to expecting a surplus in the next financial year, when the legacy that greeted us at the end of 2008 was predictions of ten years of deficit.

I’ve said it before and I will finish by repeating it. Yes there are increasing numbers of older New Zealanders in our communities now, and there will be more in the future. But you do not represent an impending crisis. Your skills, wisdom and knowledge will continue to be the cornerstones of our families and communities. We will have to continue to provide, as this National Government has, more elective surgery each year, continued access to timely treatment to healthcare, cancer treatment and medications. We will have to look at ways we can to assist you to live up to the vision of Older New Zealanders who are healthy, independent, connected and respected.

I have appreciated the chance to speak with you today and I welcome your questions.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

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