Treasurer Roy Reid and I have had a look at the Government’s recently released budget and, while we did not expect anything for our members, it was still a disappointment from a number of viewpoints. In reality Finance Minister Stephen Joyce has replaced the ambulance at the bottom of the social cliff with a hearse.
With positive financial forecasts, and they are only forecasts, it was to be expected in an election year for any government will throw the traditional lolly scramble of meagre handouts to our most vulnerable people.
These handouts will do nothing for their long term well-being and will make them even more dependent on government charity. Once on that fatal treadmill it is often impossible to get off. Initiative, enthusiasm and motivation can be dealt a fatal blow by these measures. With a proper living wage, which we have argued for over several years, and a secure national superannuation scheme these handouts would not be necessary.
In fact this budget appears to leave superannuation far behind. It is normal for the rates of superannuation increases to apply from April 1 to be calculated on the larger of two calculations based on the December 31 rates of the CPI or 66% of the average wage after tax. If the Government does not make a one off adjustment for the tax adjustments that come into effect on April 1 2017 then the increase in wages will not be included in the calculations until December 31 2018 with a starting date of April 1 2019. The Government did make a one off increase once so that there is a precedent for this to happen. We did not hear Joyce say clearly that an increase of superannuation based on the reduced level of taxation would apply on 1 April 2018.
We should welcome any increase to superannuation as many of our members struggle to survive on the current payments, especially those living alone and owning their own homes. Increasing Rates Insurance and maintenance are costs that they struggle to meet.
There will also be an increase in insurance levies to fund the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand. At 5 cents per $100.00 of cover this will be an added burden. The insurance council has already said they are concerned that many on low fixed incomes will cancel their insurance as it is becoming unaffordable. Insurance premiums rose sharply after the Christchurch earthquakes and this new increase will be hard to meet for some on fixed low incomes. Reduced insurance cover could well be the result.
The accommodation supplement and the much touted Working for Families scheme in particular will be little more than a subsidy for parasitic landlords and will do nothing to address a major shortage of affordable housing or shamefully low wages for far too many working people.
It was also disappointing to see $61million set aside to promote and facilitate tourism. We don’t need more tourists we need hundreds of thousands less. Already they cost us an estimated $54million a year in unpaid hospital bills while too many New Zealanders languish on waiting lists, through lack of adequate DHB funding, to have worn out knees and hips replaced.
Rather than squander much of the predicted surplus on minor tax cuts to bribe middle income earners it would make much more sense to close some of the major tax loopholes which big corporates and the very wealthy use to ensure they pay very little in taxes. It has been known for some time that working people pay too much tax, while those with lots of assets don’t pay enough. If tax was paid on some of these assets at the same rate as bank deposits there would be enough to adequately find both the health and housing issues.
Grey Power first started to lobby for changes to our system of funding for aged care in 2008. The joint Grey Power, Labour and Greens produced a report in 2010 and Dr Judy McGregor of the Human Rights Commission followed this up in 2012. This budget announcement will meet some of the most important recommendations in those reports. Although the Government is proud that they have increased the wages and training costs for care workers it must be remembered that government refused to make these changes until forced to by the courts in three employment cases which they lost. It was not generosity but simply that they had no legal option but to increase wages
We welcome the increase of wages for rest home and home care workers as well as the payment for home care workers travel between clients. The travel allowance needs to be paid at the Public Service rates and not a figure that the DHB.s think that they can afford. This mileage payment will benefit those workers in rural areas where many workers left the job as they could not afford to meet the cost of transport. Most care workers use their own vehicle and must be reimbursed at the correct rates. It is important that the increased money being paid to the providers is all paid to the workers and not partly retained by the providers. The need for the providers to ensure that their staff receive training to gain qualifications relating to their employment is also a long overdue action.
Concerns are that current staffing levels are not reduced to meet financial targets. Those in care need to be looked after by a well-paid and highly trained workforce with staffing levels large enough to meet the needs of those in care.
It should also be noted that most of these changes will not come into effect until next year, if National gets re-elected.
Grey Power Federation
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Grey Power’s Aims and Objectives
- To advance, support and protect the welfare and well being of older people.
- To affirm and protect that statutory right of every New Zealand resident, to a sufficient New Zealand Superannuation entitlement.
- To strive for a provision of a quality Health Care to all New Zealand residents regardless of income and location.
- To oppose all discriminatory and disadvantageous legislation affecting rights, security and dignity.
- To be non aligned with any political party, and to present a strong united lobby to all Parliament and statutory Bodies on matters affecting New Zealanders.
- To promote and establish links with kindred organizations.
- To promote recognition of the wide-ranging services provided by senior citizens of New Zealand.
- To gain recognition as an appropriate voice for all older New Zealanders.
Grey Power Achievements
Brief Overview of some results that Grey Power have been effective in achieving.
- Removal of the Surtax
- Asset Testing Legislation being Phased Out
- Lower doctors’ Fees
- Lower Pharmacy Fees
- Removal Over 80’s Driving Tests
- Removal Simulated Driving Tests by Occupational Therapists
- Lower Tariff Electricity
- Superannuation Increased to 66% NATOTWW
- Rate Rebate Scheme re-vitalised
- Independent Superannuation & Income Centres
- Improved Regulations for Rest Homes
- Code of Practice for Rest Homes
- Abolition of Interest on Student Loans
- The National Superannuation Adjustment for the Tax Cuts in the 2008 Budget is a long awaited recognition by a major political party of the plight of the elderly reliant on NZ Superannuation
- Hearing aid subsidy increased
- Rates Rebate Scheme indexed to CPI. Amount now $580 (originally $500) and threshold now $23,240 (from 20,000 originally)
- Spot Audits for Rest Homes
- Retention of Graduating Doctors – (Student Loan)
- Lowering Electricity Increase for ETS
- Retention of SuperGold Card Off-Peak Travel
- Retention of SuperGold Card Waiheke Island Ferry Travel
The Student Loan achievement was recognised in a letter from the Co-President of the NZ University Students Association, Connor Roberts, and also by the Prime Minister in an address to the Students Association in 2006.
We are also mindful of the fact that there are many gains still to be made and that our members can be assured of our continued efforts on their behalf.
In addition to the above, Grey Power has been successfully involved in many outside committees in Energy and Health in particular. Hard of Hearing, Disability committees, NZ Specifications for conditions in Rest Homes,Community Support Services Industry Training Organization (CSSITO) for conditions for Home Care and Rest Home Workers, Health of the Older Person, (HOOP) and Electricity Commission Committees to give a few examples.