Elderly at the mercy of the state

Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014

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The primary purpose of our welfare state is to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves; to give those who need it a helping hand and to protect the vulnerable - especially the very young and the old.

It was never intended to be an alternative lifestyle, as some see it.

Even the Domestic Purposes Benefit was not meant to be a permanent source of income for unmarried mothers; it was to provide a temporary income for wives and children when a marriage had broken down.

Society and customs have changed dramatically in the years since the welfare state was established and in many ways we are not the better for those changes.

Having to accept the dole or a benefit was a source of shame to most Kiwis and was only a short-term solution. There was no shame in doing menial jobs, the shame was in not having a job at all.

Obviously many jobs now no longer exist, but by the same token there are thousands of occupations that are available today that were not dreamed of even 30 years ago.

Trying to exist on a benefit has led to families facing a daily challenge to feed, clothe and shelter their children, but it was never intended to be anything more than a stop-gap measure.

The other group that is suffering from the change in society is the elderly. It was practically unheard of to put our parents in a rest home. Or to have them living alone. Families took care of them.

This is still true of various different cultures in our communities. Asian grandparents are often the people who raise the youngsters while the parents work.

The different generations all live together and contribute to the benefit of all.

It is also rare to see Maori families leave their elderly to fend for themselves. They too recognise the merit and the advantages of inter-generational contact.

Unfortunately, for thousands of New Zealanders, looking after their parents in their old age is not only impractical it is impossible.

That means that the state must step in and this it does in the form of either paying for rest home care for those who cannot themselves pay or by employing carers to come into the private homes of the elderly.

This latter solution, in some cases, has led to what is termed financial abuse, with instances almost doubling from 1100 in the 2010/11 financial year to about 2000 in 2012/13. Elderly clients have been bullied for money, tricked and groomed to put their carers in their wills.

It could be argued that the wages these carers receive are barely adequate, but that is no excuse for ripping off their clients.

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Thousands struggle to make ends meet without resorting to the cowardly conning of vulnerable people.

Yet that level of payment does suggest that the state does not value old people; that it doesn't consider the contributions made throughout their lives are worth respecting.

Exposing them to risk is hardly honouring our parents.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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