Launch of report on Living Standards of Older New ZealandersSenior Citizens
May I add my welcome to you all here this morning for the launch of this important research on the Living Standards of Older New Zealanders, as Minister for Senior Citizens.
As you have heard these are the first results from an extensive and ongoing research project into the living standards of New Zealanders.
Over the years, much has been written and spoken about the living standards of older New Zealanders, and this research adds substantially to that body of knowledge.
This particular part of the study provides much useful information that will assist the development and implementation of the Government's Positive Ageing Strategy, along with future policy development and advice.
When I launched the Positive Ageing Strategy in April this year, I spoke of how attitudes towards ageing were important, from the perspective of both the younger and the older generations.
The strategy articulates the Government's commitment to positive ageing throughout life as well as reinforcing the value we place on older people in society. It provides a blueprint for central government to ensure that older people's contributions are valued, to address issues for older New Zealanders, and to create an environment in which people can age positively. The idea is to have a framework within which all government policy with implications for older people can be commonly understood and developed.
As we work through the policies to implement that blueprint, it is important that they, and the decisions which flow from them, are based on sound and well-researched information.
The first goal of the Positive Ageing Strategy was a secure and adequate income for older people. In getting to that goal, we were to review income support provisions to ensure adequacy, and to continually monitor the changes in the standard of living of older people. This research that has been undertaken here, with its scale of material well-being, provides a base for continuing to monitor the living standards of older New Zealanders. It provides a wealth of useful information for policy development and advice.
In particular, it reinforces the effectiveness of the current New Zealand Superannuation rate structure in protecting the standard of living for most older New Zealanders.
In saying that, I note it also identifies the special requirements of that minority of older people who for one reason or another suffer greater hardship.
The research being released today is just part of the information that will become available as the rich and varied database gathered through the project is further analysed.
The findings to date from this study reinforce themes in New Zealand social policy concerning the importance of remedying the disparities that exist in our society, including between Maori and Pacific peoples and the remainder of the New Zealand population.
What I will be particularly interested in seeing in the future will be the results of the further research which is underway into the living standards of older Maori.
This will include work on a complementary study to the information so far reported, to investigate the living standards of older Maori aged 65 to 69 years.
This research is being undertaken by a combined project team including Professor Mason Durie, Chris Cunningham, Eljon Fitzgerald and others from the Te Hoe Nuku Roa Research team at Massey University; David Ferguson and John Horwood from the Christchurch Health and Development Study; along with researchers from the Ministry of Social Policy.
In its broader context, the Positive Ageing Strategy is about getting New Zealand's infrastructure right so that the greater numbers of older people in the future can enjoy their retirement years and continue to be recognised for the positive contribution they have made, and continue to make, to society. People who have retired from the paid workforce have not retired from life.
This research also demonstrates the significance of accommodation costs to older New Zealanders. High levels of home ownership are evident in our retired population, however, this raises issues of home maintenance, ongoing suitability of the family home, and availability and accessibility (including the cost) of alternatives.
In addition to that, I should note the Government is examining the protections that are afforded people who buy into retirement villages. The retirement village lifestyle is the option of choice for nearly 5 % of older people and likely to increase. However, the financial arrangements involved in this option are exceptionally complex, and I am working on introducing stand-alone legislation to remedy the defects in the current law.
Coming back to the research before us, I am particularly pleased to see that the database is now available to other researchers. I encourage researchers to take the opportunity to explore the issues raised by this report, and conduct further work using information gathered.
This will help promote informed debate and foster greater understanding of the situation of older New Zealanders today, and how we might best prepare for the future. I congratulate the researchers for their efforts and, welcome what is indeed a timely support for the implementation of the Positive Ageing Strategy.