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03 Jul 2023

Seventy years on – and not much has changed for older people in New Zealand

The dire situation for over a third of NZ’s seniors highlighted in a new report by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), the Social Wellbeing Agency (SWA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) largely echoes how it was 70 years ago, says Denise Cosgrove, Chief Executive of registered charity The Selwyn Foundation.

In the early post-war years, the Foundation (then part of the Auckland City Mission) described the challenges faced by older people as an ‘indictment’ and called for community support to build accommodation and services for those struggling with poor health, inadequate housing, limited resources and loneliness. Today, the government multi-agency report – 'Older people experiencing vulnerability and multiple disadvantage in New Zealand’ – shows that at least 33 percent of older people experience vulnerability and 13 percent experience multiple disadvantage. Māori and Pacific peoples experience particular inequity and adverse outcomes.

These findings are backed up by the Foundation’s own research, which points to overwhelming need amongst sections of the older population. Denise Cosgrove, says: ‘Through our own data analysis, we have evidence that there are currently at least 37,500 seniors in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Te Tai Tokerau Northland who are experiencing multiple disadvantage. This includes approximately 27,500 who are over 65 years old and a further 10,000 Māori and Pacific people between 55-64 years old.

‘Those in need are likely to rent or live alone in damp houses. As many as 9% are without access to all seven basic amenities (ie, cooking facilities, safe tap water, kitchen sink, refrigerator, bath or shower, toilet and electricity). One third lack more than one amenity. In a developed country like Aotearoa New Zealand, it is unacceptable that so many of our seniors are experiencing such hardship.

‘As the population ages and people live longer, the number of older people experiencing vulnerability will increase, leading to poorer outcomes for many. In light of this, The Selwyn Foundation is seeking new ways to have the biggest positive impact for those older people, and to be a catalyst for change so all older people can age respectfully within thriving communities.’

The report confirms that many of the poor living conditions experienced by older people which prompted the creation of Selwyn Village in 1954 are still with us today and, worryingly, are set to get worse with the increasing ageing of the population. The Selwyn Foundation sold 50% of its retirement village holdings to another provider in 2022 in order to realise capital to support seniors who have great need. It has now developed a new five year strategy which has a strong focus on delivering social impact at scale for this purpose.

‘We’re looking to drive real change through partnering and co-investing with others; by giving voice to the issues that matter for respectful ageing; through fostering older people’s sense of belonging and connectedness; and making sure that the Foundation is here for future generations of older people.’

The Selwyn Foundation commends the three agencies (MSD, SWA and MOH) and their commitment to contributing to the implementation of the Government’s strategy for our ageing population, Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumatua. As the study notes, the findings raise important policy considerations around how services can be futureproofed and improved across the areas of healthcare, housing and income support, to better meet the needs of older people experiencing hardship and vulnerability.

‘In 2023, the most challenging issues and areas of vulnerability for older people are the same as they were back in 1954 – liveable housing, health, financial hardship, social connection and access. As a country and as a society, we need to make better provision and do more for the rapidly rising numbers of older people who need help both now and in the years to come.

‘Surprisingly, there’s little philanthropic or other money going into services and support for older people. It’s as if we say ‘once you’ve got your super, you’re on your own and you’ll be ok’. As the report shows, the reality is startlingly far from that for many‘, Denise Cosgrove concludes.

Seventy years ago, the call to action was to fund adequate and safe accommodation for older people in need. Today, The Selwyn Foundation encourages anyone interested in making a positive impact to the lives of seniors to join alongside them, so all older people can have the opportunity to age respectfully.