A Third Age Response to The Budget

It is the psychopathic model of a Budget.

It is the psychopathic model of a Budget.

Our feelings of apprehension were manipulated for weeks by a government without conscience and empathy: playing on the fears of those who have most to fear and all the while presenting the pain that was to come as in our best interests and the interest of the nation: anxiety-inducing manipulation of people for a government’s purpose. That’s psychopathy. The principals only let their guard down once, with the Gatsby-like picture of cigar-smoking, which for older people especially is an image redolent of plutocrats taking it easy and enjoying luxury at the expense of others. Some shocked third agers thought it should have caused riots, but by then people were so manipulated by anxiety that they took it for granted, even laughed at it a bit. Hollowly. If it was psychopathy before the Budget, it was sophistry afterwards: denials that promises had been broken. Some interviewers, principally Sarah Ferguson on the ABC’s 7.30, did a fine job of exposing the sophistry. Others did less well. Government has messed with our heads. But the image that made the parliamentary setting for cigars, smoke and smiles seem like West Egg now reasserted itself as we learnt how smiling fiscal assassins would deny the young poor the means of getting out of bad life situations by affordable education and welfare support when needed, and set up the old to be resented, poor and without even the hope young people have despite life’s difficulties. I had hoped that there would be policies that would help prepare the nation for the ageing of the population, but I was not prepared for the idea of paying off employers to take on the old. Ten thousand for taking on a wrinkly? What an insult to the old with a lifetime of skills to offer their nation. There will be some phony job creation to get that $10k. Give the money to the older job seekers if you must flash it around. But the danger is in setting up the young against the old. We’ve seen it already. The more the young have to struggle to get education and the means of preparation for a future, the more they resent the old. The language describing the ageing of the population is not cosy, not benign. It is the ‘tsunami’ of old people, an ‘avalanche’ of old people, ‘draining’ the nation’s resources… And now the more the old have to struggle the less they can help the young. Volunteerism among the retired will disappear: volunteerism that holds up half the welfare sky for people in need, but is usually only mentioned when the Australian of the Year is chosen. Think of the hot meals brought to old people’s homes each day by volunteers themselves ageing. Think childcare by grandparents, which saves the nation as well as parents a bomb. These older people, these volunteers, will be job seekers. This budget is hard for young and old, but it is setting the generations against each other, making them feel they are competing for resources. Behind almost every insult to the aged is a feeling that the old have fewer rights and fewer needs. Why should he/she have a house or a computer while I haven’t? She/he doesn’t need them… Where are the initiatives we hoped to see for better lives for older people and a transition to a society with many more old people in it? The Council on the Ageing (COTA) spokesperson Ian Yates says: “Reducing pensioners’ living standards is a poor substitute for a comprehensive strategy for an ageing Australia.” And he questions lack of measures to provide retraining to older workers and flexible working arrangements. “The government will need to make these a priority long before the pension age rises.” But the rage in the hearts of Third Agers is especially directed at the Medicare changes. Medicare was a great achievement of our time, of our prime. We feel ownership of this great safety net. We are as already sharply aware of gaps and attacks on bulk billing as we are of deficiencies in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). We are discomfited by seeing the old woman counting out her last dollars for her medications at the pharmacy counter. That’s happening now. It will be a lot worse if the changes are implemented. COTA says: “Out of pocket health expenses are already a barrier for older people to visit their doctor or take their medications and these new measures (in the Budget) will simply exacerbate the problem. This in turn will mean conditions which may have been easily treated in the early stage will worsen and put pressure on the more intensive and expensive end of the health care system – hospital care and surgery. “This initiative is counter intuitive.” COTA deplores the cut to the real growth in the Commonwealth Home Support program from 6 percent a year to 3.5 percent in 2018 and the argument put to justify it. In a long life, I have never hated a Budget so much, nor seen so many traps and dangers in a Budget for the quality and decency of life in my country. That’s without even mentioning cuts to foreign aid and other appalling things. Will pensioners use their heaters this winter? I suspect not. The answer to an ageing population should never be hypothermia. @mollyfisher4

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