Northland's leading non-profit organisation for older people is calling on the government to classify it as an essential service, saying there has been no targeted support for New Zealand's senior citizens.
Whangārei Age Concern president Beryl Wilkinson raised concerns for the wellbeing of older people during the nationwide level 4 lockdown and said they weren't sufficiently looked after by the central government's response to Covid-19.
"Other organisations like Women's Refuge got money, children get their lunches delivered, we even get the Easter Bunny, but we haven't got an Easter Bonnet for older people. The older people just get nothing," Wilkinson said.
"Older people rely on families who can't come out of their bubbles or volunteers. And I believe there hasn't been sufficient targeted support to older people. This is quite disappointing. There's no package for older people with low and fixed income."
She said while there were some "very respectful" community gestures emerging throughout the lockdown, older people shouldn't have to rely on the generosity of their neighbours and even online shopping wasn't a viable option as not everyone choses to "hook into technology" at that stage of their lives.
Wilkinson therefore calls on government to escalate Age Concern to an essential service so the organisation can care – with caution and social distancing – for the older population.
"Older people suffer greatly. I believe they will be, most of the time, surviving out of their pantry and have no fresh fruit and vegetables. This concerns me as we want them to maintain their health."
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Pure Food Co and Age Concern New Zealand announced a joint programme last week to provide care packages for older people. However, their deliveries rely on donations from the public.
Age Concern usually receives funding through contracting and fundraising, but fundraising wasn't an option for the organisation due to the lockdown, Wilkinson said.
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"Such a high level of our funding comes from fundraising, which we can't do at the moment, and this is peak time. We're coming up to the end of the financial year, and we can't put applications in."
Apart from food and medicine supply, Wilkinson was also concerned about the mental wellbeing of older people, saying that many weren't allowed to see and hug their grandchildren or socialise with others.
She said the organisation wasn't able to do much at the moment expect to divert its service phone to continue taking calls. Maintaining their visits or dedicated care relief service was impossible.
Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti backs Wilkinson's demand for better targeted support:
"I think [Beryl Wilkinson] is right. We should be utilising the networks that an advocacy organisation like Age Concern has. They have a reach-out directly into older people's homes."
On Wednesday, Reti sent ministerial letters to the Minister for Seniors, Tracey Martin, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) requesting Age Concern to receive government funding and to be recognised as an essential service.
He said while achieving this was quite challenging because of strict protocol, MBIE was providing very good responses through their MP-only line.
In his letters, Reti recommended the Whangārei Age Concern to be a pilot for becoming an essential service before rolling it out to the rest of New Zealand.
Reti agreed with Wilkinson in saying that while communities and other organisations have stepped up in helping the older population, more must be done.
"There are still many [older people] who don't have that luxury".
He said the advantage of enabling Age Concern to provide that kind of service was, that the organisation already has established relationships of trust which facilitate cash transactions and medicine supply.
"My observation has been that all organisations are well trusted anyway, but it's even better if it's the person who visits you month to month – you're more likely to be comfortable to giving them cash or getting them to do whatever they need to do for you."
A $27 million government package to assist non-profit organisations and community groups who provide help to those who need it during the level 4 lockdown was announced on March 26 – with $9.6 million paid out and more being approved for payment every day.
Northland so far has received $152,339.83. Due to privacy reason, however, the Ministry of Social Development wasn't able to provide a list of recipients.
Civil Defence Emergency Management Group urges people, including senior citizens, to call the Northland line 0800 790 791, if they need groceries or other supplies during the lockdown.