Promoting Positive Ageing

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Concert Chamber, Memorial Hall, Wanganui

President, Mr Richards, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today at your AGM.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss my perspective on senior citizens issues a few months into my ministerial appointment.

My appointment as your Senior Citizens Minister has special significance for me. My personal experiences with older New Zealanders have given me an understanding of the real concerns which impact on your daily lives.

Importantly today, I'm now in a position to do more than just voice concerns to anyone who will listen. I can take action as a vocal advocate on your behalf.

I was given excellent skills for this advocacy through my mother. I come from a line of strong women with outspoken views.

My mother died 16 months ago and I lost a mainstay of my life, but I know that especially in these issues, she is with me still, keeping me on track.

I am aware my role is a vital one - to represent your concerns and promote positive initiatives within Government. I am your advocate at all levels of government.

I want to be able to speak very clearly when issues which impact upon you are under discussion. By having a Minister solely responsible for policies in this area, I feel that I can indeed make a difference on your behalf.

As a strong advocate for your issues, I have the intention of ensuring improvements particularly in policy areas.

The area I am most keen to be involved in, is in promoting positive ageing. I seem to hear positive ageing as a concept to be looked at over the next few years but I believe we should promote it here and now!

I look around when I talk to different groups of older New Zealanders and I see a wealth of experience, knowledge and skills.

Now is the time for society to value you for that wealth. In so doing, we learn as a society, to value older people.

I have always believed that the involvement of senior citizens is an important aspect of community life.

It concerns me greatly that there has been a tendency by individuals and government, to overlook contributions made by older persons in our community life.

Your life-long experiences can make our communities better and more enjoyable places to live, and participate in.

I intend to actively promote ageing as a positive, and indeed a plus, for New Zealand. We should not allow negativity to come into the picture. I will not accept the current imagery of ageing as a retreat from active participation in society. Rather the reverse - a greater opportunity to be more active.

Too many appear to see ageing as something to be afraid of. It is not! In the nineties, we have an opportunity to change such fear. We can teach future generations to see ageing as positive.

We all have to age, so why not find ways to hold hands with our younger generations and deal with community and national issues together.

I often see issues become generational with a "them" and "us" approach. This is not necessary or productive and I don't accept it. Senior New Zealanders are important.

We need to all work together to ensure that your contributions and involvement in community life is appreciated and encouraged.

My own personal experiences with older New Zealanders have helped me truly appreciate what you have to offer. I don't want to see society lose access to your abilities. I want it to be facilitated.

Continued productivity and community involvement during older years, has benefits for the individual, our communities and for government.

I believe that having a wide range of educational, recreational and leisure programmes targeting older people encourages fitness and health, both mental and physical, for as long as possible.

In turn, that not only enriches life and keeps it more interesting, it also ensures that demands on health services are more clearly focused.

As a Coalition Government, it is essential that we promote positive ageing. To achieve this, we will not only have to work with our older generations. Our younger generations need to own this concept.

It means we can change attitudes, expectations and actions across our society and ultimately, have a more fulfilling environment for our senior citizens.

I am very supportive of the development of intergenerational programmes. These programmes play a major part in revitalising and changing attitudes towards ageing.

The Senior Citizens Unit is currently working with the Ministry of Youth Affairs to develop guidelines for such programmes, similar to the guidelines used for the Police Volunteers programme.

I am looking forward to promoting the Greats and Grands month in October this year and if you have any suggestions on how we can involve more of our communities during this month, please let me know.

Another area I want to focus on is in helping older people move from a very active work life into retirement. This transition has an enormous impact on their lives and we need to find ways to help ease it.

Retirement should open up wonderful windows of opportunity. Sometimes it takes a helping hand to fling those windows wide.

Upon taking over this portfolio, I was briefed on senior citizens issues.

I was extremely impressed with the work of my team in the Senior Citizens Unit and also that of organisations such as Grey Power and Age Concern. You truly set out to, and achieve, a difference for seniors of New Zealand.

I want to work alongside you to in turn, as your Minister, make a difference through policies and initiatives.

Your work through Grey Power illustrates quite clearly how team work and co-operation can help. It enhances positive initiatives and policies aimed at older people.

A more positive approach to retirement is also supported by the Government's "Coalition Agreement", in which we stated that our general policy direction will:

"ensure that retired persons live in the relative comfort and dignity that their age, experience and previous labour clearly justifies, and that they are not discriminated against but encouraged to contribute their knowledge and endeavours to the general community."

Currently, we have a number of government agencies looking at ways to develop and implement strategies to promote positive ageing.

The Prime Ministerial Task Force on Positive Ageing was established last year in response to concerns raised by the need to prepare New Zealand for an ageing population.

The Task Force has just released a draft of its report "Facing the Future - a possible way forward" and will be conducting a series of consultation meetings during the next month.

The focus of this report is looking at "a few long-term, foundational goals and strategies, rather than on a multitude of short-term ideas". I agree with this.

I am also in total agreement with the approach taken by the Task Force to positive ageing. That of "trying to improve the experiences of people, generally, while at the same time dismantling the barriers that segregate older people from the rest of society."

We must break down the barriers and not allow people to be separated by virtue of age. It is estimated that by the year 2031, over 20 percent of the population will be in the senior citizens age group.

This increase in the number of senior citizens will have a huge impact on government policies, particularly in health, retirement income support and community support service provision.

Planning for an older population needs to start now. And as of now, we need to have positive ageing widely promoted to help improve the lifestyle of older citizens.

In line with that, the Department of Social Welfare is currently implementing a Positive Ageing Strategy. I am committed to their stated objectives which reflect the Coalition Government's direction in this policy area.

Valuing senior citizens is an essential first step in promoting positive ageing. It should be at the heart of all our policies concerning you.

DSW's key strategies include encouraging and supporting older people to stay independent for as long as they are able.

Areas that I want to vigorously promote and work with you on, are: encouraging and supporting older people to participate, and contribute, within their communities, and promoting positive attitudes to ageing throughout New Zealand society.

I want to ensure that each area is not just a concept, but a reality in your daily lives.

We are already seeing positive initiatives including the "Super Centres" concept, and the Keeping Independent Now (KIN) Programme.

We are also starting to look towards 1999 as the United Nations International Year of Older Persons and I invite suggestions from you for suitable activities throughout New Zealand for the year.

This International Year will bring the spotlight onto policies within individual countries and globally. I welcome the efforts by other nations too, to recognise the fact that older people make a significant contribution to society.

My recent visit overseas was very fruitful in the discussions I held with key organisations and officials.

After the Consumer Affairs Conference in Paris, I met with the OECD Director of the Education, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate. The OECD of course, gives us our benchmark standards for our social and economic issues.

We discussed the study they are undertakiing of issues impacting on older people in OECD countries. They were going to particularly focus on social issues like retirement income and health.

I was able to point out several key issues which we are looking at in New Zealand, and suggest that they include them in their study. The issues included elder abuse and neglect, continuing education for older people so that they can take up other opportunities and discount cards. They incidentally were very interested in a discount card concept, especially the idea of standardising it across European borders.

I am pleased to say that they will now include them. Their report will be very useful for us to compare our national performance with.

Each nation is facing the same issues as New Zealand, in the senior citizens policy areas with increasing aging populations.

The exchange of information on policy initiatives and programmes means that we do not have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak.

Our overseas counterparts were very interested in our programmes such as the pilots on elder abuse and neglect, the Police Volunteers programme and the development of intergenerational programmes.

We will find ways of co-operating with senior citizens to maximise their resources and also with organisations such as yours, to improve the overall lifestyle for seniors.

I have asked my team in the Senior Citizens Unit to co-ordinate a series of consultation meetings with older people around New Zealand.

The last one was undertaken in 1993. At this stage, I anticipate we will begin the meetings at the end of May.

It is most important to me as your Minister, to listen to your views and concerns about policies impacting on you.

Finally, I know I cannot resolve every issue and concern overnight, but I am hoping to use the results of our meetings to enhance current policies or develop new responses.

The Coalition Government delivers to you, relief from the superannuation surcharge. We stand by our commitment, as the surcharge was ageism - and therefore not acceptable.

Other benefits from the Coalition Agreement for you and the nation will be extra spending in health, education and other social services. Policy work such as that which delivered these initiatives continues, as we make further progress.

Be assured your issues are being promoted by your Minister. I look forward to working closely with you on your issues. I believe in having an "open door" to listen to concerns. Let us work co-operatively together to deal with them. Use me to advance your issues.

My sincere thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today.