Budget: what's in it for older Australians?

2019 Budget: No huge windfall from Josh Frydenberg for Australia's seniors

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Not much joy for the piggy bank in Tuesday night's budget for older Australians. Photo: Pixabay

Not much joy for the piggy bank in Tuesday night's budget for older Australians. Photo: Pixabay

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Budget a 'missed opportunity' to address key ageing issues: National Seniors.

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A PREDICTED $7.1 billion surplus, tax cuts for low and middle income earners - a "plan for a stronger economy". The federal budget promises much; but what can seniors expect?

If you're one of the 185,000 people aged over 55 struggling to survive on Newstart, the answer is not much.

However, Newstart recipients are the subject of treasurer Josh Frydenberg's first backflip following Tuesday night's budget and will now receive the one-off energy assistance payment of $75 (singles) and $125 (couples) already announced for age pensioners, veterans, war widows and others.

Tax cuts

The budget more than doubles the low and middle income tax offset from $530 a year to a new maximum of $1080.

This will benefit about 4.5 million taxpayers with taxable incomes between $48,000 and $90,000.

These people will be able to access the full $1080 offset after they lodge their end-of-year tax returns from July 1.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said these cuts would provide some benefit to older Australians given that 1.8 million people aged 55-64, and a further 572,000 aged over 65, were in the paid workforce.

"Many of these people are still trying to build their superannuation to ensure an adequate income in retirement and tax cuts will help them do this," he said.

Also, from July 2020, people aged under 67 will be able to make voluntary superannuation contributions without meeting the work test and other age-based rules will be streamlined.

Aged care

An extra 10,000 home care packages will be funded, bringing to 40,000 the number of new packages announced over the past 18 months.

However, National Seniors is disappointed that only 20,000 packages have been added this financial year.

Mr Henschke said this would do little to address the current waiting list of 128,000 people, most needing high-care level 3 and 4 packages.

Only a week earlier, he said, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard evidence from senior Department of Health and Ageing officials that the home care waiting list could be eliminated through the investment of an extra $2-2.5 billion.

Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association policy manager Paul Versteege described the government as "pandering to the nursing home industry by continuing to pour nursing home places into the system rather than on making sure the demand for home care packages is satisfied".

"Of the 128,000 people waiting for a home care package, 90,000 also have approval to go into a nursing home but none are moving into the 20,000 nursing home places that are currently spare," he said.

"They prefer to wait for a home care package, of which there will be tens of thousands too few by the end of the forward estimate period."

Health

Patient rebates will be increased for diagnostic imaging items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) from July 1, 2020.

A further $32.6 million will help reduce the cost of magnetic resonance imaging services for 14,000 breast cancer patients.

Patient rebates will also be increased for 119 GP service items on the MBS from July 1.

A total of $331 million has been set aside for new and amended listings on the PBS, including medicines to treat lung, bladder, kidney and skin cancer as well as leukaemia.

Carers

The government will provide $84.3 million towards respite for carers.

What's not there?

"A universal oral and dental health scheme is a can that this budget kicks down the road an umpteenth time in the face of evidence that such a scheme would be beneficial in health, wellbeing and dollar terms for Australia," Mr Versteege said.

"Those relying on the age pension, the DSP, carer payment and Newstart cannot afford to go to the dentist. They are doomed to suffering pain, social embarrassment and poor overall health outcomes."

National Seniors' Ian Henschke said his organisation had sought a package of assistance for age pensioners, including the establishment of an independent tribunal to set the pension rate based on need, rather than politics; increased assistance for renters; suported access to online services; expanded dental care; and unlocking wealth tied up in a family home.

"One-third of all Australian voters are aged 60 and over, and this budget was a missed opportunity to address the key issues confronting them," he said.

Read more: Newstart recipients to receive energy assistance payment

Read more: Government struggling to rein in home care waiting list

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