Independence For Older PeopleSenior Citizens
RSA Building, Paeroa
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today for your AGM.
Being Senior Citizens Minister is very close to my heart.
I see my role as a positive one for senior citizens.
Helping to give them the profile they deserve in our communities.
It is my intention to change the way New Zealanders see their seniors.
Valuing them, rather than seeing them as a burden on the state.
In the last few months as your new Minister, I have had opportunities to enjoy discussions with older New Zealanders.
I am listening to your concerns and this is assisting me in my day-to-day decision making on you behalf.
It has been a huge step into politics.
In the past, the bureaucracy has often decided in an autocratic way, how situations and issues were dealt with.
New Zealand First does not find that approach satisfactory.
We have fresh ideas, energy and a will to make a difference.
And I am delighted to be in a situation to make sure policies take your views into account.
I believe one of the reasons New Zealanders voted in MMP was to have their views more fairly heard.
And the MMP system with the formation of a Coalition Government, with its agreement between the parties, ensures more accountability to New Zealanders for the actions of this Government.
We are making history with the changes New Zealand First has negotiated within the Coalition Agreement.
It is a document which stands for change for the better.
For social change and more humanity in Government.
It stands for meeting concerns of New Zealanders.
I know what it feels like when you voice concerns and no one listens.
I see my new role as a combination of listening to people and advocacy for them.
To also find ways to help deal with concerns and respond to issues.
I don't pretend to have all the solutions.
But we can find ways to work through key issues together.
Know that I am your advocate within government.
And I already have a number of issues I want to deal with.
One area I want your views on is independence for older people.
We are not just talking about throwing money at this.
We need to look at health, housing and social services.
To find practical ways to make our policies really work.
93% of older people live in their own households.
They would no doubt like to remain there as long as possible.
And the Government would like that too.
Because it makes sense, both on a human needs level, and on a monetary level.
So as a Government, we need policies to reflect that support for older people remaining in their own home.
And then when more care is needed, to help them move to appropriate accommodation.
Home-based support services are being promoted by government but I do believe we can, and should do more.
To create a flexibility that truly caters for the needs of the individuals.
It is the needs and expectations of older New Zealanders that we must respond to.
In the Coromandel area, with a greater number of retired citizens, demands for housing and other services are increasing.
And we must find ways to ensure your needs are met.
Staying in your own home does incur costs.
Home maintenance, local authority rates and home alterations.
For some, even small house maintenance costs can be expensive.
And this is where volunteer schemes can help.
Age Concern Councils and Retired Persons Association operate such schemes - helping with minor home repairs and maintenance.
But the schemes are more local, than nationwide.
I am keen to see such schemes developed nationwide and extended into rural areas.
I will talk to organisations to find ways of making progress in this area.
We do have other assistance for older home owners.
Regional Health Authorities provide grants for essential home alterations for older people with disabilities.
Low income residential ratepayers can apply to local authorities for a rebate on annual rates.
I was interested to see that 33% of those receiving a rates rebate are superannuitants living alone.
I know that the eligibility criteria for the scheme has not been changed for many years.
I believe the criteria needs to be looked at again to ensure it is up to date with the costs of living in the late 1990's.
Too often, such help schemes rapidly become out of date with their eligibility criteria.
It then means its original intention to help older people reduces substantially.
This is supported by the very low number of people accessing the rates rebate.
From 102,000 ratepayers receiving it in 1976, in 1994/95 only 3,600 accessed the help.
The numbers, in my view, do not stack up.
We have a growing number of older people so such a reduction suggests to me, that the criteria definitely needs updating!
Another area I am looking into is home equity conversion.
Older people are generally supportive of such a concept, but are hesitant when it involves the private sector.
So your thoughts on this and other aspects of home equity would be helpful.
My Advisory Council for Senior Citizens has been looking at this issue and a report has been tabled to them.
When I visited London a short while ago, I was taken to a housing estate.
A pilot scheme has been developed giving residents an opportunity to get involved in running the estate.
It means residents organise a committee and take responsibility for the maintenance and care of their estate.
It ensures that their housing environment meets their expectations and needs.
Considerable care and attention was to the tenants benefit.
I was very impressed with the enthusiasm the residents showed.
It meant vandalism was reduced too!
It also created a more caring approach.
They all took care of each other.
And had pride in their homes.
I have sent details to the Mayors of all local bodies in New Zealand, to encourage them to look at this scheme for council housing.
I intend to follow my suggestion up and see how many would be interested in implementing it.
All we need is one successful pilot for a scheme such as this for it to be implemented by many.
I believe it will be very helpful to older citizens living in pensioner and council housing.
Inter-generational programmes are another area, which helps to value older people.
And to also help our younger generations - for they too, need care and attention.
We need to learn once again, the value of inter-generational relationships.
Where learning is two-way and so is caring.
I want to see the initiatives and programmes developed during Greats and Grands month continue throughout the year.
We have challenges ahead for us all, and I seek your input so that as your Minister, I can ensure that government policies meet your needs.