Govt has a senior moment – Verrall announces a pathway (but not too much money) to improve the lot of our older citizens

Amidst a spate of Covid-related announcements, and the third-reading passage of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill to give enforcement agencies greater powers to protect us from terrorists,  the government has delivered good news – of sorts – for its older citizens.

Whoa.  Maybe we should call them (and ourselves, here at Point of Order)  “seniors”, because the announcement was made by Dr Ayesha Verrall in her capacity as Minister for Seniors.

We fondly recall Verrall being described – just after the 2020 general election – as an infectious diseases expert who

“ .. has been parachuted straight into Cabinet after only being elected last month. Indeed she will be sworn in as a minister before even being sworn in as an MP. New Zealand hasn’t had a first-term MP go straight into Cabinet since Steven Joyce joined John Key’s first Cabinet in 2008.”

Thus looking after our best interests (Point of Order speaks on behalf of all seniors here) was put in the hands of the least experienced Minister.

More interesting, those best interests were put in the hands of a minister of uncertain vintage, although we can confidently declare she is less than half the age of some oldies.

We say this because Wikipedia records Ayesha Jennifer Verrall being born in

1979/1980 (age 40–42)

Invercargill, New Zealand

The Southlanders on your Point of Order editorial team are surprised to find this element of flexibility in the birth records in the country’s southern-most city.

Whatever her exact age, our Minister for Seniors has launched the Better Later Life Action Plan at the virtual Vision for Ageing in Aotearoa conference.

The intention is to set out a pathway for a better future for older New Zealanders.

Mind you, this could be a crafty way of putting our ageing faculties to the test.  Try saying “Better Later Life Action Plan” rapidly three times after sinking a couple of G and Ts in the evening.

Verrall went on:

“Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua is our strategy for ensuring New Zealanders can lead valued, connected and fulfilling lives as they age.”

Commendable, we say.

“Soon after work began on an Action Plan for He Oranga Kaumātua, COVID-19 struck. The pandemic has shaped our plan, because we know the significant impact COVID-19 has had on our older population, and the need to focus on actions that will help us to build back better, while contributing to New Zealand’s recovery.”

Then come the statistics:

“This strategy is also about planning for the opportunities and challenges that come with an ageing population. By 2034 we expect there will be around 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in New Zealand; just over a fifth of our population.”

The Better Later Life Action Plan – Verrall went on – sets the Government’s commitments for implementing the strategy over the next three years with a particular focus on employment, housing and digital inclusion.

This raises the prospect of your Point of Order team being helped to get jobs that pay, instead of pouring our flagging energies into producing this blog free, gratis and for nothing.

“Older workers deserve to be supported to use their skills and experience, and we want to see suitable housing that meets the diverse needs of older people. The plan also aims to empower older people to embrace technology, while ensuring those who aren’t online are still able to access essential services.

“This work has already begun, including a pilot for older entrepreneurs, research on shared living arrangements, support for Māori to manage and develop housing for whānau as they age, and the successful Digital Literacy Training for Seniors programme.”

This plan – we are told – is a collaborative effort, bringing together agencies across central government to deliver better outcomes for older people and contribute to the Covid-19 recovery.

The Action Plan can be found on the Office for Seniors website.

But hey.  The government is not going to have to increase its borrowings too much to deliver the goodies offered in this programme.

Funding of $1.965 million over four years was allocated in Budget 2021 for the implementation of the Better Later Life strategy, which was launched in 2019.

That’s less than  $500,000 a year, by our reckoning .

Yet only  yesterday the government announced a $600,000 boost on top of the first investment of $4-million specifically for – no, not young people, but for “Rainbow mental wellbeing initiatives aimed at young people”.

Much more generously, it has brought forward $37.5 million from within the COVID Recovery Programme

“…to provide a targeted support package of repriortised funding to protect jobs and incomes in the arts and culture sector as it faces the ongoing challenges of Delta”.

A powerful urge to send the Minister for Seniors an expression of our disappointment is building up.  But maybe we should be grateful we have been remembered at all.

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