On the 1st November 1898 the Old-Age Pension Act came in to law in New Zealand. A world first, general taxes would help provide a pension for elderly of ‘good moral character’. Unfortunately the pioneering spirit of elderly support in New Zealand, which has an ageing population has stalled.
An Older People’s Commissioner was established in Wales in 2003 and from July 2019 there will be an Ageing and Disability Commissioner in NSW Australia. New Zealand has fallen behind with no current commissioner for the elderly.
We do have a Retirement Commissioner, however that role is primarily related to financial capability for all New Zealanders as they approach retirement. We have a Health and Disability Commissioner. Tracey Martin is the Minister for Seniors. There is the Ministry of Health. A plethora of agencies but nothing specifically for the elderly.
When doing talk-back, Mark Sainsbury received a number of calls regarding elder abuse particularly in retirement homes. One call that really got him going was from Corinna O’Brien regarding her father’s treatment during his care at Palms Lifecare in Pukekohe. This specific case highlighted to Sainsbury the lack of accountability of various agencies prompting his petition for a Commissioner for the Elderly which has since been tabled in Parliament.
“Many of us talk the talk but don’t necessarily walk the walk, especially when things get a little difficult, don’t immediately affect us or things just seem too hard.” Sainsbury said “The system set up is not good enough. There are not sufficient safeguards. We have a commissioner for kids, the environment. We need a Commissioner who is answerable to Parliament, not to the Government of the day”.
Grey Power have lobbied for a Commissioner for the Elderly for years. There have been improvements however there are still a number of issues.
In 2018 the Ombudsman’s Office was charged with monitoring private aged care facilities (along with Corrections Facilities). While these are good steps, Sainsbury believes we need something more robust. “The Ombudsman can do things to a certain degree however I spoke to people within rest homes and they know when agencies are coming – they adjust the menu, put extra staff on and fluff pillows before pulling back to skeleton staff again.”
The Ombudsmen responded to Speaker of the House on March 1st 2019 requesting a significant increase in resources to support the 300% increase in facilities to monitor. This includes 227 privately run aged care facilities.
New Zealand has a rapidly ageing population with the number for superannuants expected to double to almost 1.3 million over the next 20 years. So what can we put in place to minimise elder abuse, poverty and general senior hardship both now and in the future? Sainsbury believes there are a number of issues surrounding this. “We need to look at how much it’s going to cost and if that is tenable. Rest home staff are horrendously low paid and overworked. We don’t have geriatric wards anymore. It is a hit from two sides.” He continues “There is a shortage of people doing it now and they are not doing it for the money. Some are great, others don’t care. It’s not even deliberate, staff often only have so many minutes per person, they don’t have time to engage, let alone bathe”.
When asked about international models and looking at what works and doesn’t work Sainsbury believes it would be foolish not to model ourselves on approaches that are already working well. “The last thing we need is to start another committee, if existing models that work can be applied here. If they’re going to do it, they need to do it properly and to deliver to Parliament”.
Sainsbury’s petition was presented by Jenny Marcroft in February and has since been tabled.