• Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Thank you for the invitation to be with you today. In your invitation you asked me to speak about Government policy on asset and income testing as it affects our older citizens and for an assurance about the future of health services in Nelson.

I will come to those issues later on but in light of last Thursday's Budget I think you will understand if I take a bit of time to discuss the broader picture which shapes Government policy.

The important message spelt out in this Budget is that it designed to deliver growth and fairness.

It's not a flashy Budget but a realistic one. It gives the economy a new sense of direction and purpose.

It is a Budget that seeks to build a society in which all of us, regardless of gender, race and socio-economic background can make a positive contribution to our country.

It also marks a shift of focus from what people can't do to what they can do.

And it makes our social welfare system fairer and focused on the real needs of people.

That's why the Budget directed more money to where it will have the greatest impact.

It allocates more for health, more for education, more for police, more for safer communities and more to support the employment strategies - a NZ First initiative.

It's a Budget that continues the work initiated in last year's Budget - delivering on promises to spend more in the social area to ensure a brighter future for all New Zealanders.

The current decade has been marked by dramatic shifts and changes, economically, socially and politically. As we move towards a new decade - indeed a new century - we need to look at where we should be heading, at how we can lift the quality of our lives.

What we must do - and what New Zealand First is doing - is to face up to the challenge of seeking out innovative ideas to meet future trends and developments, particularly in our social development.

When New Zealand First joined in the Coalition Government after the first MMP election in 1996 we had our vision and we set it out in the Coalition Agreement.

We wanted to see a start on building a new foundation for all New Zealanders - from the youngest to the oldest.

We have made a solid start. We have built a record of achievement that makes me proud to be a member of this Government and of New Zealand First. Let's look at a few of the things we have achieved:

Low inflation

A lower exchange rate to help farmers and exporters

$1,752 billion extra for public health over three years

Free doctor's visits and prescriptions for children under six years old

$1.25 billion more for education over three years

$55 million extra for early childhood education

Pay parity for teachers

250 plus extra police with $55 million extra for 114 more this year and another 100 the following year

Minimum wage increased to $7 with a second increase to come

Community wage and employment reforms
And a number of initiatives of particular importance to people of your age group including:

Abolition of the detested and unfair superannuation surtax

Removal of income and asset testing for senior citizens in long-term public hospital care and

Removal of asset testing for private hospital care.
That's a record to be proud of - and one that would not have happened if New Zealand First had not joined the Coalition Government. Have no doubt about it.

One section of the Budget which gave me particular personal pleasure was the increase in spending on elder abuse and neglect programmes.

It comes at a time of reports from around the country - including here in Nelson - of worrying increases in the number of cases of self neglect among older people.

I have, in particular, noted a report in which the Age Concern Nelson officials reported a total of 12 cases in the last four months in the Nelson and Richmond areas. This is worrying because in comparison only five cases were reported in Auckland City in the year to June 1997.

The higher incidence of self neglect highlights the need to promote positive ageing strategies and programmes in the community.

In last year's Budget the Government voted $302,000 to help fund elder abuse and neglect services. This has been increased to $390,000 for 1998/99.

Age Concern now runs elder abuse and neglect programmes in Whangarei, North Shore, Auckland, Wanganui, Wellington Christchurch and Invercargill.

The extra funding in last week's Budget will see these services offered in three more locations.

The seven programmes currently operating work on a co-ordinated team and community approach involving a local co-ordinator, case workers, and representatives from Police, Income Support and health professionals.

Because the funds for the three new programmes is contestable it is too soon to say where these new programmes will be located but it seems to me there could be a desperate need for such a programme in this area.

I suggest to the people of Nelson that they take a serious look at making a bid for one of these programmes.

These programmes are considered by the professionals and organisations involved to be an excellent prevention measure. An evaluation carried out last year indicated that they are operating effectively and that there were cost benefits to the Government in developing them further.

Our overall objective in this work must be to enhance the lifestyle of our older people while ensuring they can maintain their independence.

If we can do this I am confident we can reduce, if not eliminate elder abuse among older people.

I suggest to you that positive ageing is a challenge for all of us, whatever our age. It embraces health, financial security, independence, self-fulfilment, community attitudes, personal safety and security, and physical environment.

Through positive ageing we will recognise the life skills and experiences of older people and encourage them to continue to contribute these skills and experiences to society. Recent research data obtained from the seven pilot programmes re-inforce the need for these programmes. I believe these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.

It's considered that there are approximately 8,700 older New Zealanders who may be suffering some form of abuse and neglect. I have given the statistics gathered from the seven current programmes before but they bear repeating:

41 cases of abuse per month;
estimated 495 cases in one year (371 confirmed cases in 9 months);
71% of clients over 65 years were women;
39% of cases involved psychological abuse;
30% of cases involved financial abuse;
41% of cases, abuse had been occurring for more than one year;
43% of abusers were the son or daughter of the abused person.
A further 5% of abusers were sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.
I believe by raising awareness of elder abuse and neglect within communities, we can ensure that elderly people are better protected. Elder abuse is simply not acceptable and these programmes highlight that there is help available.

I also welcome the Coalition Government's decision to provide extra finance to fully implement removal of income and asset testing for older people in long-term public hospital care and asset testing for older people in long-stay private hospital from 1 October this year.

This decision gave me and my New Zealand First colleagues particular pleasure. We had it in our 1996 election policy and policy and we insisted it be included in the Coalition Agreement.

I'm not sure we would have had this policy if New Zealand First had not pushed so hard for it.

We did this because we believe that it brings some equity, some surety, and some fairness to senior citizens.

It does not go as far as we would have liked but the Coalition Agreement states that we will deal with rest homes later.

Quite bluntly, extending this reform to rest homes will take a large amount of money. No fiscally responsible Government could contemplate removing asset testing from rest homes at this time.

From talking to Grey Power and to Age Concern I am sure they are aware of this and, being responsible citizens, they are aware that priority must be given at this time to boosting the health Budget.

The removal of asset and income testing was announced in last year's Budget but these changes are now expected to cost significantly more than was estimated in the Coalition Agreement.

This week's Budget includes a top-up of $14.1 million for the 1998/99 year to be added to the $33.75 million budgeted last year, and a total of $62.6 million in each of the next two years or nearly $10,000 a year per eligible person.

The removal of asset and income testing will affect more than 6000 people in long-term hospital care.

This Budget announcement will remove any misapprehensions that senior citizens might have been under following last year's announcement.

Let me set out the policy in detail:

What happens to people in long-stay private hospitals?

These people are income tested only. This policy affects those over 65 years in long-stay private hospital care and those 50 to 64 years with no dependants, in long stay private hospital care.

If individuals qualify for the Residential Care Subsidy, then they will qualify for an annual clothing allowance, visiting allowance (to spouse at home) and an increase to the appropriate single rate benefit (for spouse at home).

What happens to people in long-stay public hospitals?

There is no income or asset test. Anyone in long-stay public hospital care qualifies for the annual clothing allowance (paid in April each year).

A spouse at home with the Community Services Card may qualify for the visiting allowance, and increase to the appropriate single rate of benefit.

People in care will have their share of benefit reduced to the Hospital Rate of $26.98.

What happens to people in rest homes?

These people will continue to be income and asset tested for their eligibility for a Government subsidy towards the cost.

More detailed information about the changes will be available from Income Support Service offices after the policy is implemented on 1 October.

The Budget also provides for $500,000 to mark United Nations International Year of Older Persons in 1999.

The United Nations theme for the year is "Towards a society for all ages."

The year will have two prime objectives In New Zealand : preparing for an ageing population and promoting positive attitudes to ageing and older people

The United Nations sees the year as an opportunity for non-government organisations to work together to raise awareness of ageing issue, and especially to focus on organisations which are not usually associated with ageing issues.

The taxpayer contribution of $500,000 will provide a catalyst to ensure the year is observed appropriately.

Some people wanted a higher contribution but in setting the figure the Government was mindful of older people's regard for other pressing demands for taxpayer funding, especially in health.

The contribution towards celebrating this special year is, therefore modest but I believe it is adequate. We will be asking the public sector agencies to promote and facilitate International Year of Older Persons activities from within their normal operating budgets.

I want to see the least possible amount go to administration costs and the maximum amount going out to fund community initiated projects. The emphasis will be on external projects and I'll be taking a personal interest in seeing that's where the money goes.

In your invitation to me to be here today you asked me to discuss health services in the Nelson area. I take it your main concern is about the future of Nelson Hospital.

I'm told there has been some unease in Nelson about the future of its health services. That's an unease shared with other districts.

But I have been assured by my ministerial colleagues in the Health portfolio that Nelson Hospital has a secure future and will continue to offer a comprehensive range of services.

And, in fact, $4 million has been committed for the much needed upgrading of Nelson Hospital's theatres as part of the Government's ongoing commitment to investing in the country's hospitals

The exact shape of your hospital's future will be spelt out in the clinically-based Hospital Plan that is at present being developed by the Health Minister, Mr Bill English, and which will be made public later this year.

This plan is being developed by looking at what people need, not what money is left over for a hospital after other costs have been covered.

The Hospital Plan will give your city the certainty of knowing what services will be available at your hospital when you need them.

The Government accepts that people want more certainty. The Hospital Plan when it is made public later this year will set out what services people can expect in their towns and cities in the next five years.

In this context, there's a widespread myth that Government spending on health has been slashed in recent years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I notice even your latest newsletter perpetuates this myth. It is quite misleading for anybody to say "money is more important than People or Clients."

The fact is that New Zealand's health spending is the highest it has ever been at 7.8 per cent of GDP, as figures in the Health Ministry's publication Health Expenditure Trends 1980-1997 disclose.

As well as health spending being the highest ever, the publicly-funded share of health spending is growing and is now 77.3 per cent of total spending compared with 76.7 per vent last year.

Last week's Budget increased health spending by 6 per cent to $6.2 billion - that's $1,631 spent on the health of every single person in this country

I suggest this is clear evidence that we are committed to a publicly funded, high quality and fair health system.

And, by the way, last week's Budget announced that hospitals will no longer be required to earn a profit but to deliver services efficiently.

And hospital will again be called hospitals - not Crown Health Enterprises.

These figures confirm that the Government is carrying out its pledge to spend more on health. We are taking giant strides towards bringing stability and certainty to the delivery of health services.

Finally let me sum up my feelings about this year's Budget:

The Budget fronts up to the economic and social issues facing the country.

It makes substantial investments in health, education and other social policy areas - carrying on from last year's Budget.

It's part of a three year programme. It balances sensible economic management with the Government's determination to build strong communities.

And, finally it is firm but fair. Thank you,