Seniors are families too

So after all the leaks and rumours and predictions, Federal Treasure Wayne Swan delivered his sixth budget last night.

A predicted deficit of $2 billion is now a predicted deficit of $18 billion. This has been largely affected by major reforms in education ($9.8 billion) and the new DisabilityCare Australia scheme (14.3 billion). Reforms most of us want, but few have the courage to say how they should be funded. So that is the ‘big’ picture.

The story for older Australians, however, is largely unchanged.

Despite the Government claiming that it wishes to turn ‘grey into gold’ and to harness the wisdom of senior Australians, the Age Pension has not been increased and many, many older men and women will continue to live in poverty. I understand that the cupboard is bare, but at some stage we need to restructure an inequitable tax system where millionaires get massive tax breaks and older people can barely afford heating and basic medical requirements.

One innovative measure is a trial program with $112 million funding which, from 1 July 2014, will allow seniors who have owned their own home for 25 years to downsize. They can then invest the surplus funds (up to $200,000) in an account and the interest will be exempt from the Age Pension means tests for up to 10 years. If rolled out, this will allow older Australians to access the money in their homes with the security of knowing they will not jeopardise their pension entitlements. No longer will they need to be asset rich and cash poor.

So a big tick for that measure.

One cause for concern is the Medicare Benefits Scheme indexation, which may result in a reduction in doctors providing bulk billing.

It was good to see the baby bonus go – it was never good policy, so no loss there. But the group which still remains severely disadvantaged is those on the Newstart allowance, Although a small increase in the amount which can be earned before the allowance is affected was announced, little has changed in their lives and that is to the detriment of all.

We hear a lot at budget time about families, particularly working families in relation to the effects of the baby bonus, the school kids bonus and paid parental leave.

This type of language leaves older Australians stranded in some kind of family-free ghetto, which is ridiculous. Senior Australians are families too. All either live with other people, look after family members, are children, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents. They are a vital connection to what really matters – not grey, but gold. So it is high time we stopped applying the notion of ‘families’ to those under 50 and started recognising older Australians for the high value they bring to our society.

Written by Kaye Fallick