.
COTA

Media Release

State Budget impact on older people

South Australia's 2014 budget spares many of the state's older people from the worst of the cuts - for now. It also meets a number of election commitments for older people.

In this budget, the state government has quarantined some of the state's most disadvantaged and vulnerable people from the general cuts.

Cuts to health services, and in particular a significant shortfall in the health budget, will nevertheless impact negatively on all South Australians. How this shortfall will be met is the subject of future decisions.

CONCESSIONS

Retention of concessions in 2014-15 for council rates, transport, energy, and water and sewerage 

In the coming year, the state government will make up the $30 million shortfall of federal funding to maintain concessions on rates, utilities and transport. For ratepayers, there will be continuation of a $190 concession for eligible pensioners and lower income earners and a $100 concession for eligible Seniors Card holders.

This money was cut in the 2014-15 federal budget when the Commonwealth government unilaterally withdrew from the National Partnership Agreement on Certain Concessions for Pensions Concession Card and Seniors Card Holders. The partnership helped fund council rates, energy, water and sewerage, motor vehicle registration, and public transport concessions.

COTA SA welcomes the state government's decision to retain these concessions in the coming year. This decision gives age pensioners and card holders an important stay of hand over the next 12 months.

COTA SA encourages the state government to encourage the Commonwealth government over the next year to reverse its decision on funding concessions. Pensioners are already finding it hard to pay for basic services and these concessions are ‘make or break' for many.

Retention of concessions delivers on COTA SA's request to the Premier to continue this vital support for age pensioners and Seniors Card holders.

EMERGENCY SERVICES LEVY

Exemption of eligible pensioners and concession card holders from increases in the emergency services levy on their principal place of residence

Facing a significant loss of Commonwealth and other revenue, the state government has increased the emergency services levy (ESL) on homes and on vehicles. Eligible pensioners and concession card holders are exempt from ESL increases on their principal place of residence.

COTA SA welcomes this exemption. However, it is aware that some vulnerable older people will be adversely affected by the ESL rise. For example, it is expected that the rise will be passed on to renters who are often those on low incomes and cannot afford to buy their own homes. Older people whose homes have increased in market value but who are cash poor are also likely to be affected.

UTILITIES

Increase in the energy concession and the medical heating and cooling rebate

Funding of $12 million per year has been provided in the budget to increase the energy concession and to increase the medical heating and cooling rebate by $50 to $215 per year.

COTA SA welcomes these initiatives, but recognises the continuing high prices of energy within the state and the low rates of concession relative to other jurisdictions.

In its Equal Citizens state election platform, COTA SA called on the government to ensure that utilities, transport, council rates and state government concessions kept pace with rising prices through reviewing and applying the most appropriate indexation arrangements. COTA SA continues to push for such a review.

ADVOCACY FOR RETIREMENT VILLAGE RESIDENTS

Funding across four years for an advocacy service for retirement village residents

The budget provides for a new initiative, meeting an election commitment of the government, to provide an advocacy service for residents of retirement villages. A total of $522,000 over four years will provide support during Residential Tenancy Tribunal hearings, inform residents of their rights and responsibilities under the Retirement Villages Act 1987, and assist in mediation.

This initiative delivers on COTA SA's election platform, Equal Citizens, to:

Immediately accept the recommendations of the final report of the inquiry into the Retirement Villages Act, including halting misleading and deceptive advertising and funding a residents' advocacy service.

Separately, the state government has tabled its response to the retirement villages inquiry and COTA SA continues to contribute to consultations on reform of the Act.

OLDER WORKERS

Funding to support three programs to help older workers get jobs and to promote the value of mature-age expertise

The budget provides $1.5 million over four years for three projects:

  • $850,000 over four years to expand the Skills for Jobs in Regions program to support older workers
  • $600,000 over four years to DOME (Don't Overlook Mature Expertise) to increase employment outcomes for mature-age workers
  • $100,000 in 2014-15 for COTA SA to work with business to promote employer understanding of the value of mature-age workers and to promote workplace flexibility for older workers.

COTA SA welcomes these initiatives. They deliver on election commitments made by the government and on COTA SA's election platform, Equal Citizens:

Work with business, the Equal Opportunity Commission, training institutions, and the community sector to retrain older workers and address age discrimination in employment, targeting northern Adelaide in the first instance.

Work with the business and public sectors to deliver flexible work arrangements for mature-age workers.

A review of workers compensation legislation was confirmed within the budget. COTA SA is keen to see its election platform proposal for removal of retirement age restrictions in workers compensation legislation be part of this review.

LIFELONG LEARNING

Funding to support University of the Third Age associations

Nineteen University of the Third Age associations will receive funding to support their delivery of peer education to older South Australians. The funding also includes support for the University of the Third Age Alliance.

COTA SA welcomes this funding as a contribution to lifelong learning and a recognition of the skills and expertise that older South Australians offer.

RIGHT-SIZING GRANT

Provision of an $8,500 grant to people aged over 60 years who want to right-size their principal residence and purchase a new age-friendly home

The budget introduces an $8,500 grant for those aged over 60 to move from their principal place of residence and purchase a new home that is age-friendly. The grant is for new homes that meet eligibility criteria, where contracts are entered into between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2016. The grant is available for new homes valued up to $400,000 with a phase-out for homes up to $450,000.

The initiative totals $14 million over two years and meets an election commitment of the government.

COTA SA welcomes the initiative. It addresses COTA SA's election platform, Equal Citizens, proposal to:

Consider innovative options around stamp duty that will allow older people to downsize, ie to move to more appropriate homes.

COTA SA encourages the state government to give consideration to further initiatives that deliver affordable and appropriate housing to older South Australians - and in particular those within the private rental market who not only face significant rental costs but are often in accommodation that is not appropriate to their needs.

In Equal Citizens, COTA SA called for the government to work with the housing sector and Housing SA to establish targets for housing built to universal housing standards. This remains an important and valid initiative.

For more information about the grant please refer to Seniors Housing Grant.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Expansion of funding to the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme from 2014-15

The budget expands the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS) from 2014-15, providing $1.1 million in 2014-15 and then $2.3 million per year from 2015-16. This increase will be indexed. There will be additional funding to redesign and maintain the PATS database.

The expansion of the scheme includes important reforms, including:

  • removing the requirement for patients to pay the first $30 of travel costs for each trip
  • increasing the accommodation subsidy from $30 to $40
  • expanding eligibility criteria for support for escorts.

The initiative delivers on a commitment by the government.

COTA SA welcomes the reform and expansion of PATS. The initiative fulfils a proposal within the COTA SA election platform, Equal Citizens:

Increase the funding and ensure ongoing indexation for the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme.

Other initiatives and impacts on health

COTA SA welcomes other initiatives including the establishment of a mental health commission, the establishment of a city disability respite facility, and increased funding for the Disability Justice Plan.

The fuller picture for health is less rosy and more complex.

Health funding to the state was severely curtailed in the federal budget. In response, the South Australian government has put on hold a number of important capital expenditure initiatives. A shortfall in the overall health budget threatens a further contraction in healthcare services. How this shortfall will be met is the subject of future decisions. The Premier has promised a conversation with the community on the impact of this shortfall, which COTA SA supports.

COTA SA encourages the state and federal governments to work collaboratively over the next 12 months to ensure the maintenance of SA's health services, including early intervention and disease prevention programs. Cost-shifting and jurisdictional arguments over who has responsibility for healthcare must not threaten the health and wellbeing of older South Australians.

Download a copy of the media release