MEDIA RELEASE: Budget 2013: Welcome Initiatives for Older Australians but the Most Vulnerable Left Wanting

“Older Australians will welcome initiatives to improve internet skills, increased action on breast , prostate and bowel cancer screening , and continued commitment to pension indexing and major aged care reform” , said leading seniors advocacy body COTA Australia.

“However they will be disappointed the 2013 Federal Budget does little to support the most vulnerable older Australians.

COTA Chief Executive Ian Yates said it was disappointing an increase to the Newstart allowance was not included in this Budget given the fact that a third of long term Newstart beneficiaries are over 55.

“These people struggle for years on Newstart, with many failing to find employment, until they qualify for the Age Pension. The result is many older Australians spiralling below the poverty line,” Mr Yates said.

COTA welcomes the ‘Housing help for older Australians’ pilot which supports pensioners who w ant to downsize to a more suitable home. Under the scheme they can put up to $200,000 of the excess sale proceeds from the family home into a special account and the capital and interest will not be counted under the pension income and assets test.

“While a positive step forward the scheme has its limitations,” Ian Yates said “We welcome any initiative that gives older Australians more freedom to make appropriate lifestyle choices but the pilot scheme has some limitations which will significantly reduce eligibility , so we will be talking to the government about that .

“We would like to see pensioners being able to draw income from these funds to meet the costs of aged care and health services, which is not permitted as the scheme currently stands.

“The scheme doesn’t address one of the most vulnerable group of pensioners, those in the private rental market and at risk of homelessness. COTA has repeatedly called for an increase in rent assistance and the establishment of a Social Housing Growth Fund to support older Australians in the private rental market many of whom, especially single women, are experiencing significant housing stress.”

COTA Australia supports encouraging older Australians to become more confident with internet technology.

“The additional $9.9m for new technology and training grants in the Broadband for Seniors program will encourage further internet use but there should also be help for lower income older Australians to connect the internet to their home, especially with the roll out of the NBN,” Mr Yates said.

“Many pensioners are challenged to afford internet access, not just the initial set up costs but the ongoing service charges. We have been advocating for a broadband supplement for pensioners for some time.”

COTA Australia welcomes investment in collaborative and integrated academic research.

“We hope that the establishment of the $4.6m Andrew Fisher Applied Policy Institute for Ageing will provide the opportunity to do just that.

“We want to see research activity that connects the community, the corporate sector and the government with academia to deliver meaningful advice that works for older Australians in the real world beyond their immediate health and aged care needs.”

Mr Yates said older people would also welcome the additional commitments to cancer research and treatment.

“COTA Australia has been advocating for an extension to the age limit of the Breastscreen program for years and we’re delighted that this has been taken up.

“We are also pleased that other cancers that affect mostly older people have been given a priority in the Budget with funding for a new Australian Prostrate Cancer Research Centre and additional funding for the Bowel Screening program which saves many thousands of lives.”

COTA Australia considers the change to the Pension Bonus Scheme as an inevitable part of the winding down of that scheme.

“The Pension Bonus Scheme closed on 20 September 2009 and this change ends the grandfathering arrangements whereby people who qualified before that date have been able to enter scheme. Even then the scheme doesn’t close to these individuals until 1 March 2014.

“We urge everyone who is eligible to enter the scheme to do so in the next nine months.

“COTA welcomes the fact that the Government’s major social policy initiatives for older people have emerged unscathed from a difficult Budget.

“The age pension reforms continue to provide pensioners with unprecedented increases through indexation on top of the major increase in 2009.

“The Living Longer Living Stronger aged care reforms–for which crucial legislation is now before Parliament-will provide older Australians with more care in the home, more choice and control over services, and a fairer and more sustainable system.”

Media contact: Ian Yates 0418 835 439, Jane Garcia 0434 489 533