Ageing without Equity: PSNZ Election Forum

Does any Party have the long-term thinking necessary for adequately addressing the costs of Aged Care coming?

We are coming into a time where there’s a big emerging generational issue. As the Right Reverend Hamish Galloway described it at Presbyterian Support New Zealand’s Election Forum, “there’s this crisis already here and it’s only going to get worse for an increasing number of people who are over the age of 65, who don’t own their own home and can’t get by on superannuation.”

By 2048 we’re talking about perhaps 600,000 New Zealanders who will be over the age of 65, who won’t own their own home and will be struggling to survive.

Rt Rev Galloway was there to respond to four Party representatives, who came at PSNZ’s invitation to present their Parties’ position on the issue. Karen Chhour spoke for Act, Ricardo Menendez-March spoke for the Green Party, Greg O’Connor spoke for Labour and Ian McKelvie spoke for National. Te Pāti Māori declined their invitation to send a speaker.

After all four had presented, Rev Galloway said the urgency and long term thinking he was hoping to hear in their speeches were lacking.

“The elderly want their voice to be heard. Tēnā koe! I see you. They want to be seen. And politically that’s an incentive because they’re an increasing percentage of your electorate” Rev Galloway spoke directly to the candidates.

“And it’s not just their issue, it’s also important to all their whānau who are left caring for their elders. So if you address this issue really well I think it’s politically expedient for you and it’s not just about whether you care for the most vulnerable but also about understanding politically how this world ticks. Because we all do want what’s best for our elderly.”

PSNZ also invited speakers from the Retirement Commission, Te Whatu Ora, Alzheimers NZ and the Aged Care Commissioner.

I was interested to hear the view of political parties during the lunchtime forum but did not hear any urgency around improving the experience for older people accessing health and disability services across the continuum of care,” said Carolyn Cooper, Aged Care Commissioner.

“We need a joined-up health system focused on what older people want and need to improve their outcomes. Acknowledging the importance of primary care, community care and aged residential care as critical partners in the health and disability system and in the success of the health reforms would be a good place to start.”
Catherine Hall, CEO for Alzheimers NZ said she was particularly looking forward to hearing from the Party spokespeople but was also left disappointed.

“None of the Parties appear to have a coherent strategy or policy to make sure that poorer older people have equitable care and suitable housing. How frustrating – our ageing population is hardly a surprise!”

So what did the Party Reps say?

When your audience is the governance team of Presbyterian Support with a few national allies in advocacy for older New Zealanders also in the room, the simplest way to win them over is a promise of strong investment in our Community and Voluntary Sector, not just to make sure we are able to provide those beds, but also to make sure we are able to care for those who rent and who age in their own homes. A belief in pay equity helps too because we still struggle to find the staff that we need to serve equitably, out in communities, wherever older people are.

You may be surprised with who said what.

ACT’s Karen Chhour:

Usually the party’s spokesperson for children, Chhour was first to speak and surprised us recounting her work experience as a Caregiver in the Sector and astutely noticing the historical difference between the corporate for-profit levels of provision and publicly funded levels of care. Seeing the difference brought her to say the following:

“Not for profit organisations provide a service that is so important in our communities… It’s really sad to hear some not for profit organisations saying ‘we just can’t keep going the way we’re going’. I really think government should be looking at how we’re funding these organisations and making sure we are putting enough back into those organisations that are proving that they have a worth,..valued in their communities. These organisations are giving back three, four times what they are taking in funds, going well and above and beyond what is expected of them and we should be looking into more funding.”

The Right Reverend Galloway applauded her funding approach in his response.

GREEN’s Ricardo Menendez-March

Seniors Spokesperson for the Green Party, Menendez-March spoke as someone with parents relying on the care of family members, so he seemed cognisant of how important the issue was, not just for older people but also for all family members. He also was the candidate offering the most practical policy solutions, for example:

“One of the key things we can be doing right now from a govt point of view is actually resourcing and putting pressure on Kainga Ora to build homes that are fully accessible. It is not OK for Kainga Ora to only have met 10% of the target, effectively only having 1.5% of their new homes being fully accessible. So more work needs to be done there to assure our communities have homes for whānau to live in from the cradle to the grave.”

Menendez-March didn’t stop there, saying it was not enough for a home to be accessible, it needs to be affordable as well. He showed an eye for detail and genuine passion recounting how Greens advocated for income related subsidies to be broadened so that people are not paying more than 25% of their income on rent; and a rental warrant of fitness as well as rent controls, so that people’s incomes can keep up with the cost of rent.

What was really endearing about Menendez-March was his awareness of the value of volunteer work, saying there was way more government could do to ensure that volunteer work is properly valued in Aotearoa as “a critical part of our economy.”

LABOUR’s Greg O’Connor:

It might be a surprise to some that Labour sent a backbencher to speak to this issue when there’s a brand new Minister for Seniors who could have taken this opportunity to introduce herself. After all, Presbyterian Support is one of New Zealand’s largest national providers of healthcare and social services and a keen stakeholder partner with government, so PSNZ was disappointed Minister Ginny Andersen passed on this chance to whakawhanaungatanga. One would then hope she would have at least sent Greg O’Connor with a speech to deliver on her behalf. Sadly this was not the case, O’Connor clearly spoke from his own notes and also said the least about what was to be done by government to ensure equitable care and housing for poorer older New Zealanders.

What he did do well was give a report card of the great measures the current Labour government has already taken that will raise the quality of life for poorer Kiwis in general, like winter energy payments, raising superannuation, reviewing housing accommodation supplements and legislating healthy homes standards. O’Connor showed his pride in being part of a government that had taken such equity measures.

In his response Rt Rev Galloway thanked Labour for these measures, but was clear to O’Connor “What was missing was the long term picture of the looming crisis and how we can address that.”

NATIONAL’s Ian McKelvie:

Seniors Spokesperson for National, with a unique claim of currently being parliament’s oldest MP, Ian McKelvie was quick to point out the current economic climate and challenges facing government when addressing the equitable care of vulnerable populations such as poorer older people. He was also mindful of the economic disadvantages throughout their working lives facing Māori and Pacific peoples, women and people with disabilities, that leave them disproportionately over-represented among the poorest at retirement. McKelvie also pointed out the housing crisis being driven by the “challenges faced in supply” and the nursing shortage leaving the Aged Care Sector in crisis. Indeed McKelvie was certainly aware of the challenges we face, but it took him a while before he suggested any solution, and when he did, it was vague:

“We hold the view that Community Housing Providers hold a lot of the answers here, particularly in rural New Zealand. Our retirement villages are some of our biggest housing providers in New Zealand.”

Moving into a retirement village is an option for those with equity, so it was difficult to understand how McKelvie’s solution was relevant for the increasing population we were focused on for the day, those ageing without.

McKelvie was clear on one measure: National will lift the age of superannuation. “We’ll do it in a graduated way and we’ll do it with a lot of notice to the New Zealand population,” he said, although how this measure would address inequities among older people he didn’t say.

What no Party Rep said: Cross-Party collaboration is necessary

Karen Chhour did grasp as a Caregiver once in the Sector what government’s oldest MP didn’t acknowledge at all, that while the private sector is providing the retirement village opportunities for our wealthy elderly (and so will continue to do really well) charitable entities like Presbyterian Support struggle to provide the standard rooms and beds for those who can’t afford to get into those retirement villages. It’s getting increasingly difficult economically, to fulfil the growing need our society has for health and support services like those Presbyterian Support’s Enliven has to offer.

Rt Rev Galloway told the Party representatives New Zealand needed a government focused on the future, considering how to overcome these longterm economic challenges and not just short term politics. He suggested collaboration across government on matters like these where it matters to everyone and impacts everyone.

“I think one of the ways to judge society is to look at how we treat our most vulnerable. There are some areas where we don’t need to get into political arguments but actually say you know, the care of our elderly is so important to all of us – why can’t we work together and come up with a long term plan here?”

Perhaps it’s unrealistic, just months away from a national election, to hope for Party representatives to suggest cross-party collaboration to meet the needs of poorer older people. Without enough alternative policy solutions or long-term thinking evident however, members of Presbyterian Support’s leadership were left despondent about whether New Zealand had leaders ready for the times that are coming.

“The lack of preparation by the politicians, apart from the Greens representative, was very disappointing. Basically they signalled that older people and those who care for them are not a priority for their party,” said Bonnie Robinson, CEO for Presbyterian Support Northern.

Jim Berry, Te Manukura o Te Kahui Rangatira, PSNZ’s Māori Advisory Group, provided the following feedback prefaced by two relevant whakatauki: “E maha nga rangi ka tautau te remu ka taikuiatia ki te whare – When you get old your wrinkles will hang down and you will loiter about the house. Do not despise old age or the aged. Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi – Without foresight or vision the people will be lost.”

“Kaumatua – Older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else, and as a country we must also respect their human rights and dignity. All four speakers missed the mark with regards to our Elderly population. Even more so with respect to Māori, with only the Green MP mentioning cultural diversity in our communities.”

PSNZ will continue to call on Te Pāti Māori to send its position on what government can do to meet the crisis in Aged Care, particularly for the rapidly growing older Māori population. But it’s clear that going into a national election, apart from perhaps the Green Party, New Zealand lacks the urgency within leadership necessary for the hard economic times that are coming for a growing constituency, poorer older New Zealanders.

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