MORE choices for our longer lives was the catch-phrase of last night's Budget as the Federal Government rolled a long list of policies for managing Australia's growing number of seniors.
Across jobs, aged care, rights, superannuation, health and retirement incomes, the government proposes substantial changes to how ageing Australians are funded, supported and included in a healthier Australian economy. The Budget also looked at work and health support for Australians who are approaching their retirement years.
Overall the senior's advocacy group COTA Australia is positive about the "comprehensive" budget and what it will mean to Australians going forward.
Were Australian seniors the big winners in Budget 2018?
"We support it because it's good policy," COTA Australia chief executive officer Ian Yates said. "We have said we will be working with the government to make sure the initiatives they have put in place are followed through."
Among all the issues identified within the Budget's "more choices for longer life" initiatives, Mr Yates identified several policy recommendations.
Mr Yates noted the commitment to funding the establishment with the states of a national register of appointed Power of Attorneys. "I think there is a real momentum around this and I think the government has decided it needs to take the lead otherwise the states will never get there," Mr Yates said.
The allocation of $82.5 million for residential aged care mental health support and $20 million to trial services combating isolation is an important step forward for ageing Australians. Mr Yates argues it's not enough, but he noted it is important to have these programs specifically identified within the Budget.
Pensions Loan Scheme
"It's probably a bit of a sleeper," Mr Yates said of the existing scheme. The proposed policy change is to extend eligibility.
"I don't think a lot of people appreciate the impact of this. This is really a different kind of line of credit type use of the equity in your home, rather than having to take out a big commercial reverse mortgage.
"For the vast bulk of people coming into retirement, the home is still the largest asset, larger in general than super," he added. "The issue is if you start off in retirement with a part-pensioner with part-super and after a while you have used that, then how do you utilise this asset you are sitting on?"
Seniors can draw on this equity to pay for health, aged care services and home improvements.
He also welcomed the proposed changes to retirement income rules and the increase in the Pension Bonus Scheme. "It's not large and it hasn't been increased for some time so moving it from $250 to $300 a fortnight is welcomed," Mr Yates said. "That helps keep people connected into the workforce."
Jobs and skills
Mr Yates said the comprehensive budget is looking to reach broader consumer groups. He used the example of the employment program changes which will help people improve their skills and facilitate career changes while still in their 40s, promotes continuing mature employment and engages employers.
The boost to the number of home care packages, while still not considered enough when some 100,000 people are on the waiting list, is being welcomed. "It's 20,000 more in the next couple of years on top of what is already a very substantial growth," Mr Yates said. "Over the next four years we see a growth of 34,000 high level packages which is an 84 per cent increase in the number of high level packages in that period. That will have an impact. Is it enough? No, we need more, but getting that out of the government was a significant achievement."
Mr Yates also confirmed the government agrees in principle to putting residential care funding in the hands of consumers and to creating more funding flexibility for residential and home care by merging the funding pools so that it can be targeted more to home care packages if the increase in demand for these packages continues to increase.
Missing from the Budget
Three areas that COTA argued for action didn't make it to the policy list. "There are many older Australians on Newstart," Mr Yates said. "We, along with many others, have argued for an increase, but the government haven't done that.
"Second is housing vulnerability. Pensioners in the private rental market are particularly vulnerable and we have argued for an increase in Commonwealth rent assistance. Increasing rent assistance across the board is an expensive exercise and a lot of that money then flows to the state-based community housing associations. We are still working this government on a more targeted assistance to people in the private rental market.
"The other area we have argued about for quite some years and will again for next year's budget or the election, whichever comes first, is an oral and dental health program aimed at older people. It's a significant broader health issue."