National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke.
National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke. .

National Seniors view budget as a 'missed opportunity'

LAST night's Federal Budget has failed to impress older Australians, with leading independent advocacy group National Seniors Australia describing it as disappointing, especially for age pensioners.

Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said the organisation had framed a budget submission to the Government designed to lift pensioners out of poverty after years of neglect.

National Seniors had sought a package of assistance for aged pensioners, including establishment of an independent tribunal to set the pension rate based on need, rather than politics; increased assistance for renters; supported access to online services; expanded dental care; and unlocking wealth tied up in family home.

Mr Henschke said Australians wanted a fair-go for pensioners and National Seniors' recommendations had provided practical ways to ensure their standard of living kept pace with community expectations.

The Federal Government had provided a welcome one-off payment of $75 for single pensioners and $125 for couples towards their power bills, and previously announced commitments to aged care, and health initiatives such as indexation of Medicare rebates for scans and x-rays.

"While the one-off payment will help pensioners with cost of living pressures, National Seniors proposed the government reinstate the indexation of the Energy Supplement,” Mr Henschke said.

"This would have cost about $30 million a year - compared to the $280 million in this year's budget - but would have made a real, ongoing difference to all pensioners who have been hardest hit by escalating energy prices.”

National Seniors also welcomed the government's recognition that home care packages were a priority for older Australians.

But it was deeply disappointed with the addition of only 20,000 packages in this financial year, which would do little to address the current waiting list of 128,000 people, most of them needing high-care level 3 and 4 packages.

Only a little over a week ago, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard evidence from senior officials in the Department of Health and Ageing that the home care waiting list could be eliminated through investment of an additional $2-$2.5 billion.

Despite this compelling evidence, the Budget handed down last night only included $282 million, or 10,000 of the additional packages that were urgently required. This was on top of the 10,000 places announced in December 2018.

National Seniors called on both the Government and Opposition to consider redirecting some of the forecast $7 billion surplus to eliminate the home care waiting list by announcing additional funding during the forthcoming election campaign.

"One third of all Australian voters are aged 60 and over, and this budget was a missed opportunity to address the key issues confronting them,” Mr Henschke said.

"Our budget priorities stem directly from what older Australians tell us matters to them.”

Mr Henschke said the Government's tax cuts would provide some benefit to older Australians, given 1.8 million people aged 55 to 64 and another 572,000 people aged over 65 were in the paid workforce.

"Many of these people are still trying to build their superannuation to ensure an adequate income in retirement and tax cuts will help them to do this,” he said.

Mr Henschke said that with the Federal Election expected to be announced in coming days, National Seniors would continue to fight for these and other key issues such as reducing health costs and protecting retirement incomes.

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