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Source: New Zealand Government

Tēnā koutou.

Thank you, Wayne and Ngaire for introducing me.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to give the opening address of the Vision for Ageing in Aotearoa Conference today, in my role as Minister for Seniors.

This conference is a collaborative effort to explore ageing. You’ll be hearing from a diverse range of presenters from all sorts of backgrounds. This is a fantastic opportunity for people to come together, to share and most importantly – learn. 

I know it was a difficult decision to move the conference online, and that unfortunately this had to be done last year too. Although it’s a shame we can’t all be together in person, it’s great to see everyone adapting in these unprecedented times.

I would like to take a moment to applaud the can-do spirit and dedication of Age Concern New Zealand and the New Zealand Association of Gerontology, to ensure this conference went ahead again in spite of the bumps in the road caused by COVID-19.

You should be very proud of your flexibility and hard work to bring this all together online in such a short amount of time – ka pai!

COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout

I don’t think anyone around the world has escaped the impact of COVID-19. Sadly, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted older people. Not only do older people face a higher risk of falling seriously unwell if they catch COVID-19, many live alone and are digitally excluded, which has made lockdowns particularly difficult for them.

Thank you to those of you who’ve contributed to efforts to help older people in your communities who need extra support through our lockdowns. The outbound calling campaign last year to support older people during lockdown, organised by the Ministry of Social Development, would not have been possible without the support of community organisations including Age Concern. Whether you are part of an NGO sharing information and providing advice, or you’ve dropped off groceries to an older person in your life. Every helping hand makes a difference.

From the outset, the Government’s approach to COVID-19 has been to go hard and go early to save lives and protect those who are most at risk. This response has been informed by science.

Earlier in the year when we had limited vaccine stock, the Government ensured our vaccine rollout prioritised those New Zealanders most likely to come into contact with COVID-19, and those who were most at risk if they caught the virus.

People aged 65 and over, and particularly those in aged care facilities, were given the opportunity to be vaccinated early on. More than 648 thousand people aged 65 and over are fully vaccinated, providing them with crucial protection.

93 percent of people in this age group have either had a dose of the vaccine, or have a booking to get vaccinated. This is excellent.

As planned, we are now receiving more frequent deliveries of the highly-effective Pfizer vaccine. The rollout has sped up and opened to younger age groups, so more people can be protected. Everyone aged 12 and over can now be vaccinated. I urge you, if you are eligible, get a vaccine to protect yourself, your loved ones, and those who cannot yet be vaccinated against this highly infectious and deadly virus – such as children.

Vaccines will help us return to more freedoms, and a new normal.

Better Later Life strategy background

While COVID-19 is front of mind, the main thing I want to talk to you all about today is an exciting update on the progress of the Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumātua strategy.

A key focus for me since I became Minister for Seniors, has been delivering on our commitment to continue implementing the strategy.

It was launched in 2019. I hope most of you have read it, but for those who haven’t or who need a refresher, it’s our vision for ensuring New Zealanders can lead valued, connected and fulfilling loves as we grow older.

The strategy looked at our policies and what needs to happen to ensure we’re utilising the opportunities – and planning for the challenges – that come with our ageing population, both now and into the future.

It’s imperative that we consider our ageing population. By 2034 we expect there will be around 1.2 million people aged 65 and over; just over a fifth of our total population.

The strategy is our roadmap until 2034. It’s designed to guide the work of central and local government, NGOs, businesses and communities to achieve better outcomes for all New Zealanders. So, if you don’t already, I would encourage you all to refer to the strategy regularly.

Many of you here made significant contributions to shape the final strategy. From providing insightful views at hui across the country early on, to casting your lens across the draft and providing submissions in the consultation phases.

I know this kind of involvement means you are passionate about seeing the strategy come to life.

That’s why I thought this would be the perfect occasion, and why I am very pleased to announce, that here today I’m launching the first Better Later Life Action Plan.

Better Later Life Action Plan

This is a significant milestone in our work to make New Zealand a great place to grow older.

The Action Plan He Mahere Hohenga sets out the Government’s priorities for delivering the strategy over the next three years, through to 2024.

Work to deliver the initial actions in the strategy began as soon as it was released, as did the development of the Action Plan. But last year our attention had to shift to fighting COVID-19.

When work restarted on the Action Plan, we needed to adapt. There was a new outlook for its development, because we needed to ensure it recognised the impact of COVID-19, and what actions would be most important to the country’s recovery. While the Action Plan follows the strategy, it has been shaped with the pandemic in mind.

The first Action Plan is a collaborative effort, bringing together agencies across central government. It outlines our priorities for action, work that’s already progressing, how we will track that progress, timeframes we expect actions will be completed within, and our next steps.

The three key areas of focus are employment, housing and digital inclusion. Government agencies will be responsible for delivering on 25 actions in relation to these priorities areas.

Why is employment a priority? Because we want to see older workers supported to use their skills and experience, and to facilitate the development of a resilient, multigenerational workforce.

The economy is operating above pre-COVID levels, and unemployment is down at four percent thanks to our strong health approach. We need to harness the many benefits to both older workers and employers of having a multigenerational workforce, and in making sure there are opportunities so older people are able to work if they want to, or need to.

The Office for Seniors is already supporting the Selwyn District Council in a pilot, to address the unique challenges older entrepreneurs face and help them to establish sustainable businesses. Their ‘Senior Innovation Action Programme’ for Later-in-Life Innovators will be completed and evaluated as a part of the Action Plan.

We all deserve to have a place to call home, where we feel safe and content. The Action Plan’s focus on housing aims to make changes to help provide a wide range of safe, secure and affordable housing options that meet the needs of older people.

Alongside our existing housing crisis, this point is significant for our economic recovery from COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of people aged 65 and over who receive the accommodation supplement has increased by approximately 12,000 … to 127,522 in March this year.

An important element of housing options for older people is a sense of community. Older people and kaumātua should be able to continue to live in their communities, or move closer to family and whānau.

The Office for Seniors has already hit the ground running researching the possibilities for promoting shared living arrangements, as a means of assisting people to grow old where they want to grow old. Shared living arrangements could provide support and companionship in the home, as well as addressing affordability issues. Initiatives that support such arrangements are common overseas. This is just one area that the Action Plan will explore further.

While today we’re gathering online, digital inclusion has been a major issue throughout lockdowns. And it would be fair to say people who aren’t online, have probably found it much more difficult than others to stay connected and access the goods and services they need.

Digital inclusion was chosen as one of the priorities in the Action Plan so that older people are given the chance to embrace technology as the world moves increasingly online. But we also want to make sure those who are not online, are not left behind – and can easily fulfil their day-to-day needs.

We have already seen more than 1,000 older people improve their tech skills through the Office for Seniors Digital Literacy Training for Seniors programme, delivered through the 2020 Trust and Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa. This training kicked off last year, and will be evaluated under the Action Plan – along with other moves to bridge the digital divide for older people.

More generally, research is underway that will paint a clearer picture of what more needs to be done.

The Office for Seniors has begun research on improving support for socially isolated and other vulnerable people. They are using data to try and pin down correlations between different sources of vulnerability – such as poor housing outcomes, social isolation, poor physical and mental health, and income inadequacy. This will help us build a better understanding of the people who are having difficulties, and drive future research to target interventions to support these people.

Research on ageism and systemic responses to it is also underway. The Office for Seniors is doing policy research into the issue of ageism as a concept, and how it contributes to the challenges older people can face such as isolation, loneliness, and employment discrimination.

They’ll also be publishing the results of their new “attitudes to ageing” survey later this year. The previous survey took place in 2016. It asks adults questions about both their attitudes towards older people, and towards their own experience of – or expectations for – ageing. This provides a rich source of data about older people’s place in society, which will be able to provide direction on many of the points within the Action Plan.

Conclusion

This is just a small insight into the work that’s already underway, and the direction set by the Action Plan.

Please read it for yourself, it can be found on the Office for Seniors website where you can also order a copy if you want to.

I hope you’re all feeling emboldened about this major progress with the implementation of the strategy and seeing it come to fruition.

It’s been a pleasure to speak to you all and launch the first Better Later Life Action Plan today.

Thank you again for having me. You have a fantastic range of amazing speakers ahead of you, so enjoy.

Mā te wā.

MIL OSI