Positive Ageing in WainuiomataSenior Citizens
Address to Wainuiomata Grey Power
Rugby League Clubrooms, Wainuiomata
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you. I bring greetings from Trevor Mallard, who as your local MP, is looking forward to an opportunity to meet with you some time next year. Could I also commend all of you here for attending today’s seminar, as you are a crucial part of ensuring that the goals of Positive Ageing benefit your community.
I have addressed many Grey Power meetings around the country since becoming the Minister for Senior Citizens, and I usually begin by explaining my role, because it is different from my other portfolio responsibilities. While I am the Minister of Immigration, I am the Minister for Senior Citizens. It is the distinction between the 'of' and the 'for' that explains the difference. It is an advocacy role, which means I am effectively your voice at the Cabinet table. And I have been able to use that role to approach other portfolio Ministers about issues that are of particular concern to older New Zealanders. For example, I have spent a lot of time talking to Mark Gosche about the Older Persons’ Driver Licence; I talk to Ruth Dyson about older persons’ health and Annette King about broader health issues; I talk to Michael Cullen and Steve Maharey about superannuation issues.
I didn’t actually anticipate being the Minister for Senior Citizens, largely because before the last election I was the Opposition Spokesperson on Youth Affairs. However, it didn’t take me long to realise that the issues were the same, and they revolved around two words: participation and belonging.
When I talked to young people they told me that feeling that they belonged was really important to them, and the ability to participate in their communities was critical to how they felt about themselves and how others felt about them.
Older New Zealanders gave me exactly the same message. This was the impetus for what has become NZ’s Positive Ageing Strategy.
Positive ageing strategy
When we launched the Positive Ageing Strategy in April this year, we did this with a fun debate entitled: "Positive Ageing Begins the Day You Are Born". The strategy is designed to encourage all ages to think positively about ageing, and about those who are.
From a public policy perspective, it’s about promoting positive ageing across a broad range of portfolio areas to ensure that the needs of older New Zealanders are taken into account in the policy development process.
It outlines policy principles for positive ageing, setting out priority goals and key actions. It is intended to be a living document with annual action plans for government agencies, with a monitoring system to check on how we are going.
For example, a key goal of Positive Ageing identified in the current Action Plan is improving the Health of Older People. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health is developing a Health of Older People Strategy and the first draft was recently released for public comment.
We have already announced the decision to remove Older Persons Health from the Disability Support Services funding, and I have welcomed this move because it recognises that older people do not have the same health needs as younger people with disabilities. For a start many older people’s disabilities are as the result of medical or surgical needs, and therefore, an integrated approach across personal health, health promotion, injury prevention and disability support is vital to providing appropriate support where and when it is needed.
I have made it clear that what we need in older persons' health is a comprehensive assessment, treatment and rehabilitation focus, as well as better access to elective surgery when needed and better integration of services, particularly between institutional care and the community. This is a key feature of the Health and Ageing in Place Goals of the Positive Ageing Strategy.
Many of the Positive Ageing Strategy’s goals will take time to achieve; that is to be expected. However, the obligation for reporting will be, I believe, a much better insurance against decisions being made without consideration of their impacts on the positive ageing objectives.
As part of monitoring this work, a report on the state of older people and on positive ageing in New Zealand will be produced about every three years and the first of these was released on October 1 – the International Day of Older Persons.
Positive Ageing Status Report
The status report provides a comprehensive description of the situation of older people in New Zealand today. It discusses current policies and programmes encouraging people to age positively and identifies issues requiring government action as part of the Positive Ageing Strategy. I guess you could describe it as a baseline document against which progress towards the Positive Ageing Goals can be measured.
The status report’s sub-title, Diversity, Participation and Change, reflects the following themes that are recognised throughout the report:
-the diversity of older people
-the continued participation of older people in all aspects of society
-the opportunities provided by the changing population in New Zealand.
These are very important themes, and the language is important too. The opportunities provided by an older population should be appreciated from that perspective. If it is approached from the angle of the "burgeoning burden of the ageing population", then a lot of the potential for volunteers, mentors, carers, role models and supporters that exists in this population will not be realised. Using positive language makes an enormous difference in this regard.
The report presents the demographic and economic context for discussing specific policy issues, but its main purpose is to provide specific information on the ‘status’ of older people in New Zealand, using the ten positive ageing goals as subject headings.
There has already been an overwhelming response around the country to this strategy and right now, Volunteer Community Co-ordinators are working within their regions to identify how the strategy can work for their communities, and how their communities can contribute to the process.
Here in Wainuiomata, Paula Baton is carrying on with the good work that Margaret Wright (Secretary Grey Power Wainuiomata) was involved in, as your local VCC. Obviously with Paula as your current president, this is a great opportunity for Grey Power members to think about how the Positive Ageing Strategy can benefit you, your family and your community, as well as how you can contribute to it.
In addition to the first monitoring report, three months ago Steve Maharey and I launched the Living Standards of Older New Zealanders. Although it told us that the majority were doing okay, it told us for the first time what factors contributed to those who were not doing well – divorce/separation; death of a spouse; significant period of illness; major hospital operation; low paid jobs; intermittent work; redundancy; lack of additional income over superannuation;
rental accommodation rather than home ownership. The risk of poor living standards in retirement increases with the number of factors present.
This says we have enormous challenges for a generation which didn't experience a job for life, one spouse, one house and the "save first, buy later" ethic. So this document represents a real challenge to the policy makers of today, to get it right for tomorrow. I’ve described my generation as the ‘instant gratification’ generation, who buy first, pay later, and this document says we are going to be paying in more ways than we care to contemplate.
There is of course, only so much central Government can do – we cannot legislate to change attitudes.
We need partnerships between central and local government and the community to provide the environment for attitudinal change, and to develop community actions that are relevant to each community.
I think the spirit of the Positive Ageing Strategy is illustrated by a quote I've borrowed from Age Concern: "Positive ageing is not about how to live longer nor how to avoid growing old. It is about celebrating older age."
And there is plenty to celebrate. Contrary to the stereotypes, older people have a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to society. And they are living independently, in better health, for a longer period of time than ever before.
§Only five per cent of the 65+ age group live in residential care settings – this increases to 25 per cent for those over 85 years of age, but that means 75% do not.
§Older people make up a significant group of caregivers, especially to their spouses and grandchildren.
§And older people are major contributors to the voluntary sector
As people get older, we gain a greater perspective on life, and a better understanding about what is really important. The benefits of positive ageing for individuals are obvious. They include good health, independence, intellectual stimulation, self-fulfilment and friendship. But society as a whole has a lot to gain from these outcomes as well.
A healthy, happy and confident older population contributes a wealth of expertise and skills to the community and workforce, places less demand on social services, and provides positive role models for younger generations.
Although I am an advocacy Minister, this year I have been given special responsibility for one piece of legislation this year and that is the retirement villages legislation.
The concerns that have been raised with me relate to older people who take up residence in a retirement village unit, and are then, often caught up in complex legal matters and contracts, which can in fact defeat the whole purpose of moving into the village in the first place. Most people are looking for security, companionship, independence and support when needed. The idea of a continuum of care is very attractive to many older people. With a rest home on site, they don’t even have to move.
However, the real problem is that people do not understand what they have bought into. The message I am taking around New Zealand is that investing in a retirement village does not equate to purchasing property you can sell. If people understand that, then explaining the consequences, in advance, in plain English, will help. An effective dispute resolution mechanism will also be a feature of the legislation, as it is important to recognise that these are peoples’ ‘homes’, even though they don’t ‘own’ them in the traditional sense.
The principles of the proposed legislation are due to go to cabinet in a couple of weeks, and then they go as drafting instructions to Parliamentary Counsel.
I am therefore anticipating having the Bill tabled in the House before the end of the year. It will then go to a Select Committee, where the public will be invited to make submissions. I have found it particularly gratifying to work on this legislation.
It is a complex area of the law, and I am confident that the legislation will unravel the complexities, benefiting both those who own and those who reside in retirement villages.
I think I’ll stop there, so that I can have time to respond to any questions you may have. I do want to say though that I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as Minister for Senior Citizens. Although it is a portfolio without a specific budget, I believe that we (and in saying we I include my amazing Senior Citizens Unit, within the Ministry for Social Development) have achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time.
Although I’ve been an MP for over 10 years now, this is my first experience of government, and all I can say is that it is a tremendous privilege to govern, and something that we will never take for granted. Coalition Government has reinforced for us what we already knew, and that is genuine partnerships are the strength of any strategy. The Positive Ageing strategy is no exception. Central government, local government and community can create communities for all ages, and one cannot do it without the other. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I am happy to take questions from the floor.