Helping over-65s questioned

Laura Black.
Laura Black.
A Dunedin poverty campaigner is ''slightly puzzled'' by Labour's promise of free GP visits for older people, which she says will increasingly benefit the ''selfish generation'' of baby boomers.

Methodist Mission chief executive Laura Black said older people had a much lower rate of poverty than those under 18 and the youth group should be targeted.

''I'm struggling to see the case for the older 65 subsidy.''

Labour has also promised to extend free GP visits to under 13-year-olds and promised free dental care to pregnant women.

She was pleased with these policies, but said the party needed to go further to help young people.

Born between 1945 and 1959, the baby boomer generation was ''what's known as the selfish generation'', Ms Black said.

Targeting them with election promises reflected fierce competition between parties for the older vote.

''It is the generation that has been best taken care of. As far as I understand, the evidence for additional health subsidies for those over 65 is really weak [compared with younger age groups].''

Grey Power health national advisory group chairwoman Jo Millar, of Dunedin, said baby boomers paid their taxes like everyone else. The policy made financial sense by reducing hospital admissions caused by older people deferring GP visits, Mrs Millar said.

The baby boom generation has been criticised for removing social entitlements like free tertiary education once they had used them.

University of Otago politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards said Labour's policy, which would make 1.7 million New Zealanders eligible for free GP visits, raised the question of whether it ought to be made universal.

''It would reduce administration costs, it would reduce some of the tensions between generations and groups, and it would deal with the criticism that this is essentially a middle-class policy that will advantage rich just as much as it advantages poor.

''These policies seem designed not on the basis of need but on the basis of electoral calculation.''

Opposition parties focused heavily on child poverty in the last three years, but it is not shaping up to be an election issue.

''I never entirely thought the mainstream parties would put their money where their mouths are in terms of tackling that problem,'' Dr Edwards said.

Clutha-Southland Labour candidate Dr Liz Craig, a public health physician, rejected the claim of intergenerational unfairness, citing Labour's Best Start package for families with babies, GP visits for children, and housing and income policies.

Many people living on the pension had trouble paying for GP visits and prescriptions, she said.

Averting hospital admissions for conditions like pneumonia would save money in the longer term.

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