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    International Year of the Elderly?
    - Graham Stairmand - 9/10/98

    How does the New Zealand Government mark the beginning of the International Year of the Elderly?

    -- with two forays against them!!.

    Superannuitants to bear the brunt of the Government's cost cutting
    That the Superannuitants should be the only group to be targeted to provide a solution to the country's ills is quite unacceptable. Despite the Government's assertion that the New Zealand Superannuation will not reduce as it remains indexed to the CPI, the fact that it is now linked to a lower percentage of the nett after tax average wage means that the actual amount that would have been applicable at the next adjustment has been cut as well as future adjustments until this new base is reached.

    Many totally dependent on New Zealand superannuation
    From the information we have, 36% of Superannuitants have no income other than New Zealand superannuation and their circumstances depend very much on housing - whether they own their own home or rent. As a general rule because of the much despised traditions of the past most tend to pay their debts first, so that the first call on funds is for rent, electricity, and telephone, after which comes food, and with the residue, if any, extras like clothing, shoes etc. Some find the level of superannuation with their circumstances merely a subsistence and quite difficult.

    A similar number have little other income
    A further 36% of superannuitants have other income of less than $3000 per annum and the remainder have income greater than this by either still being in employment or from investment or private superannuation schemes.

    This new regime therefore affects a major proportion of superannuitants. That the elderly should have singularly to bear the brunt of changes shows the lack of esteem in which they are held by the government and confirms the Treasury view of redundant economic units.

    Bad timing
    It is particularly unfortunate that this announcement was made just prior to and confirmed in law on the day that was the commencement of the International Year of the Elderly.

    Government's treatment of superannuitants grounds for election
    We believe that the government has no mandate to treat the elderly in such an arrogant fashion and should immediately call an election so that the public can determine their fitness to continue.

    New Zealand First's proposal to cut asset testing dropped
    Just a day later, just to reinforce the attitude to the elderly, the bill that was due to be presented back to Parliament by the Social Services Select Committee was axed, this being the Bill that made changes to the current income and asset testing regime for long term geriatric care. The reasons given have changed over time but the latest is that it was unfair to those in rest homes as they didn't receive any relief. We can only wonder at the political mind and ask, 'Why was it fair when the bill was introduced but is not now?' We can only answer, 'Because it affects the elderly and may have lightened the burden and also it was pique because it was a previous coalition partner's legislation.'

    Only the elderly pay for long term hospital care The base fact that is seldom raised is that this legislation only applies to the elderly and if you are married and need care and are under 65 it is free!

    More awareness needed to provoke protest action
    Can we create crowds to march on the street as happened when Margaret Thatcher introduced the poll tax? - sadly no, because the measures affect only a small part of the populace, the elderly, and further, a small number of them. The average person has no knowledge of the regime whatsoever until a member of their family is affected and therefore there is no feeling in the community of any real injustice.

    Remember how long the regime for paying for hospital treatment lasted when it affected the whole population - some few months - until everyone knew someone that had been asked to pay and decided that it was not acceptable. The general public would react similarly if the income and asset testing regime was applied to their long term care.

    Graham Stairmand is the Secretary of the Superannuitants Association (GreyPower) Christchurch Inc.

    Published with permission from NZine