The 2022-23 Victorian State Budget was handed down by the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, on 3 May. The budget includes measures that promise to improve older Victorian’s health and wellbeing, but there are still major gaps that need to be addressed. This will be a focus for our Policy and Advocacy Team throughout 2022.
Here’s what’s in the budget for older Victorians:
Many older Victorians have been severely affected by the cancellation of elective surgeries since the emergence of COVID-19. The Victorian Government’s Pandemic Repair Plan promises to increase surgical activity with 40,000 extra surgeries in the next 12 months. The plan will also provide funding to recruit new nurses and emergency staff and train, upskill and support those already in the field. We’re hopeful that these measures will go some way towards addressing the needs of older Victorians whose healthcare has been disrupted by the pandemic.
Digital inclusion and access to information
We’re pleased to see new funding allocated to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing to allow it to review older Victorians’ digital connectedness. We know that older Victorians still face extremely high rates of digital exclusion, which affects their ability to access vital information and services. That’s why COTA Victoria has previously called on the Victorian Government to invest in a range of well-coordinated services to facilitate digital inclusion and alternative access to information for Victorian seniors. This review is a step in the right direction and one that will hopefully lead to tangible change. In the meantime, we welcome additional funding for libraries and neighbourhood houses, both of which help older people to stay informed and connected.
Social inclusion and community connection
Older Victorians are still experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness as we learn to live with COVID-19. As such, we welcome funding to set up ten new social inclusion action groups, which will aim to build connections and reduce social isolation among vulnerable groups. We also welcome funding for a range of initiatives aimed at increasing social inclusion and community connection among Victorians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, especially given that almost 40% of migrants from non-English speaking countries are over 50.
While the budget does include extra funding for transport infrastructure and accessibility upgrades, it’s still not enough. For many reasons, public transport isn’t always a viable option for older Victorians. As such, we continue to urge the Victorian Government to increase investment in door-to-door transport, including community transport and taxi and rideshare services, to help older Victorians get where they need to go. Without this support, older Victorians experiencing transport disadvantage are at greater risk of social isolation. Being unable to travel to medical appointments may also negatively affect their health.
Housing and homelessness
Older women are still the fastest-growing group of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria. That’s why we welcome extra funding to boost Victoria’s supply of social and affordable housing and increase the capacity of key homelessness services. Given these are generic budget measures, however, we would like the Victorian Government to outline how it will prioritise the needs of older women.
This year’s budget includes a significant investment in measures to address family violence. While elder abuse is recognised as a form of family violence, it is very different to intimate partner violence and requires a more nuanced approach. It’s great to see continued funding for elder abuse prevention networks, which raise awareness of elder abuse and deliver primary prevention activities. Unfortunately, however, these networks only exist in some parts of the state. With one in six older people currently experiencing elder abuse[i], long-term funding is needed to expand the networks statewide.
In the wake of findings from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, we’re pleased to see more investment in public sector residential aged care. This funding establish two new facilities and refurbish three more. We will continue to work with government to ensure the rights of older Victorians living in residential care are promoted, protected and upheld.
Keeping up with the cost of living
COTA Victoria welcomes the announcement of a one-off $250 Power Saving Bonus, but as electricity prices rise, this will not go far enough to relieve the financial burden for older people on low incomes. We’re also concerned about how easy it will be for older people to access this payment if they’re not online, as it only available to households that use the Victorian Energy Compare website to search for the cheapest electricity deal.
[i] One in six older Australians reported experiencing abuse in the twelve months prior to being surveyed between February and May 2020. (14.8%). https://aifs.gov.au/projects/national-elder-abuse-prevalence-study