National Seniors Australia has described the Federal Budget 2018-19 as a mix of pluses and minuses for older Australians, with key initiatives foreshadowed by the government falling short of expectations and needs. Chief Advocate Mr Ian Henschke said National Seniors welcomed aged and home care initiatives, along with others to allow seniors opportunities to boost their standard of living. But what had been described as a budget for Baby Boomers and a big winner for seniors was much less than promised. According to the most recent government figures, more than 104,000 people were on the waiting list for home care packages to meet their needs, with 78% of them needing higher Level 3 and 4 packages. National Seniors had called for double the number of Level 3 and 4 home care packages, to allow people to stay in their own homes and out of residential aged care. “We are pleased the government has committed to fund 14,000 high level packages over the next four years, in addition to the 6,000 places announced last December,” Mr Henschke said. “But, sadly, there are still tens of thousands of people waiting for the level of home care they need and it seems that will remain the situation for some years to come unless more money is put into this vital area. We know that if people can remain in their own homes, they have better health outcomes and it is more cost efficient, so it’s hard to understand why more resources haven’t been allocated to home care.” Mr Henschke said National Seniors welcomed $146 million in additional funding to provide aged care services in rural, remote and Indigenous communities, along with $32.8 million for palliative care, which was contingent on matching funding from the states and territories. The advocacy group for older Australians also welcomed an increase in the Work Bonus from $6,500 to $7,800 pa, which would allow pensioners to earn more before their pension was reduced. “We’ve been arguing pensioners should not be penalised for working but encouraged to do so. They should be allowed to earn more so they can improve their standard of living, rather than being penalised with pension cuts,” Mr Henschke said. “While we sought a lift in the Work Bonus to $10,000, this is at least an increase, and we’re also pleased that for the first time, this initiative has been extended to include self-employed pensioners.” Mr Henschke welcomed changes to the Pension Loan Scheme, which would allow everyone of age pension age with equity in their home to borrow up to 150% of the age pension each year. “This means a couple can borrow almost $56,000 a year against their home, at an interest rate of 5.25%. Rather than being asset rich and cash poor, they can now have a comfortable level of retirement,” Mr Henschke said. “Given 75% of pensioners are home owners, this measure has the potential to reduce a lot of pension poverty.” National Seniors welcomed the abolition of superannuation fund exit fees. This would encourage people to consolidate their super for increased returns on investments. Another plus was a change to the work test for those aged 64 to 74 that would allow them to continue investing in superannuation for an extra year after retiring. Mr Henschke said National Seniors was disappointed key elements of its Federal Budget submission to the government, including an overhaul of the health insurance industry to reduce the soaring costs of premiums, excessive out-of-pocket medical expenses, and retention of the energy supplement, had been overlooked. “The government has said the National Energy Guarantee will reduce average power bills by $400 a year, but we don’t know how that will work,” Mr Henschke said. “Electricity bills have risen more than 12% every year in the past decade and some older Australians are having to make choices between buying food or keeping warm in winter because they can’t afford both. “Many seniors are also struggling to maintain their health insurance, and even when they do, they find when they make a claim, it’s either not covered or there are huge out-of-pocket expenses. “Our belief is that major reforms are needed to address the underlying costs and until that happens, the government shouldn’t be approving any increases to premiums.” Chief Advocate Ian Henschke is available for interview on 0418 815 319. Media contact: Lynda Schekoske 0488 047 380.