No frills, few thrills

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After last year’s historical pension increase, the 2010 federal budget proved a low-key affair for older Australians. See how you fared.

Some of Australia’s leading political commentators have called it the boring budget. With its lack of big new spending announcements, it certainly was not a traditional pre-election budget. But after a string of spending promises on health and superannuation in the run up to the budget, the government was more intent on establishing its credentials as good economic managers than giving more money to voters.

In contrast with last year’s budget when the government delivered a $14.2 billion package of pension reforms for older Australians there was little in the budget targeted specifically at seniors. But many of the measures announced in the budget will benefit the over 50s.

For health consumers

Over 50s spend more money on healthcare, have higher hospitalisation rates and are more likely to have long-term health conditions, so the additional $2.2 billion investment in health is welcome.

This includes:

$355.2m (over three years) to make it easier for people to see a GP by establishing an additional 23 GP Super Clinics, and provide 425 grants to expand community health and Indigenous medical services, and existing general practices.

$390.3m (over four years) to encourage GPs to employ practice nurses. Practices will receive $25,000 towards the cost of the salaries of registered nurses and $12,500 towards the salaries of enrolled nurses.

$28.8m (over four years) to establish a rural locum scheme for nurses. The scheme will allow nurses in rural areas to take leave and undertake continuing professional development. The locum service will provide around 750 locum nurses per year with living costs assistance, including accommodation and travel support. It will also provide a locum allowance to improve the attractiveness of locum posts.

$466.7m (over two years) to establish a personally-controlled electronic health record system. This secure system will enable improved access to health care information. Patients can choose to participate in the system.

For age care residents

$59.9m (over four years) to encourage age care workers to undertake further studies to improve the qualifications of personal carers, enrolled nurses or registered nurses.

$21.0m (over four years) for an extra 600 enrolled nursing training places and 300 undergraduate nursing scholarships. These training places and scholarships will be for people working in the age care sector. Training organisations will get $18,000 for each enrolled nursing training place they provide. Age care workers undertaking an undergraduate course in nursing will receive scholarships of $30,000.

$21.8m (over four years) to: improve the security of accommodation bonds held by aged care providers; introduce more stringent requirements on how accommodation bonds can be invested; introduce criminal penalties for the misuse of accommodation bonds; and strengthen reporting requirements on how bonds are used.

$7m (over four years) to improve the efficiency of aged care providers by establishing a new benchmarking system. The new benchmarking system will allow providers to compare their operational and service performance with other providers, and identify areas where they can improve their performance.

For older workers

$200.2m to deliver training places and boost the number of workers of all ages available in skill shortage areas. Training will support the up-skilling of the existing workforce with a focus on continued participation of mature-aged workers.

For taxpayers

A standard deduction of $500 for individual taxpayers for work-related expenses and the cost of managing tax affairs from 1 July 2012. From 1 July 2013 the standard deduction will be increased to $1,000. This will enable taxpayers to spend less time and effort filling out tax return.

From 1 July 2011, a 50 per cent tax discount on up to $1,000 of interest earned from saving. While welcome, this only represents a $177 annual tax break for someone who earns $40,000 a year.

Where are the gaps?

Pensioners undertaking seasonal work

The budget missed the opportunity to allow age pensioners working for short defined periods to average their income over an entire year. Pensioners who work for short periods of time will continue to be unfairly penalised and lose some or all of their pension when they are working.

Dental health

The budget has completely overlooked the need for urgent action on oral health. National Seniors has called for more affordable dental care for older Australians, particularly in the form of regular free dental checks.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

The budget failed to address the inequities existing between singles and couples. Singles will continue to have to spend the same on medicines as couples before they can access the PBS safety net.

Tackling age discrimination

The budget did nothing to address the wider issue of age discrimination. National Seniors’ pre-budget submission called for a government-funded community awareness campaign aimed at changing negative attitudes, and increasing awareness of elder abuse.

Assisting older workers

There were no specific measures to encourage employers to recruit and retain older workers who want to stay in the workforce.

What National Seniors said

Commenting on the budget, National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said:

“Over 50s spend more money on healthcare, have higher hospitalisation rates and are more likely to have long-term health conditions, so extra funding is always welcome.”

National Seniors also cautiously welcomed additional funding to tackle the skill shortage in age care, and measures to help older workers stay in the workforce.

“The $103 million to help age care staff improve their skills is obviously welcome but it will not solve the longer-term problem of staff shortages, especially the shortage of nurses. We are concerned about what appears to be a piecemeal approach to the reform of age care.

“It is also welcome that the government has included mature aged workers in the $200 million package to help workers retrain and gain new skills, but more still needs to be done to help older workers who want to stay in the workforce,” said O’Neill.

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