The Federal Coalition Government is supporting senior Australians across the New England with grants to help prevent loneliness, social isolation and improve digital health literacy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, said five local organisations will each receive $5000 under the Be Connected program to purchase digital devices to loan to socially-isolated older residents, including:
• Digital IQ – Tamworth
• Digital IQ - Glen Innes
• Community College Northern Inland Inc – Barraba
• Community College Northern Inland – Bingara
• Community College Northern Inland Inc - Inverell
Digital IQ – Tamworth, Digital IQ - Glen Innes and Community College Northern Inland Inc – Barraba, will also receive a further $5000 each from the Good Things Foundation to improve digital health literacy skills in these communities.
Good Things Foundation was engaged by the Australian Digital Health Agency to teach people how to understand and use digital health literacy tools such as My Health Record – an online summary of your key health information.
Additionally, almost $5 million will be used to significantly expand Friend Line, a national telephone support service for older Australians, to answer 60,000 calls a year.
Mr Joyce said the ability to stay connected digitally has never been more important for rural and regional areas, but ease of access was not the same for everyone.
“Nineteen and a half per cent of residents in the New England community are over 65 and many people in this age group are not always confident using digital technology,” Mr Joyce said.
“These grants will help improve the online skills of our senior residents who are increasingly turning to the internet to access online services during the coronavirus, while expanded access to Friend Line will make sure that seniors, no matter where the live, don’t feel lonely or isolated.”
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said access to timely support as well as digital and social connections were essential to support older Australians to live independently.
“With a third of all senior Australians living alone there is a real need for this assistance to alleviate loneliness and social isolation,” Minister Ruston said.
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said the Government’s Be Connected program was making modern technology available to seniors for free as well as building their online skills and know-how through step-by-step training.
The Be Connected program, delivered in partnership by the eSafety Commissioner and the Good Things Foundation, plays a critical role delivering digital skills workshops to older Australians helping build their confidence online as they increasingly turn to virtual services, including telehealth, during COVID-19.
Friend Line (1800 4 CHATS) will rapidly expand to be available outside normal business hours between 10am to 8pm, seven days a week.
The latest investment comes on top of a new support phone line offering specific advice and counselling for senior Australians seeking assistance because of COVID-19.
Established in conjunction with the Council on the Ageing Australia, National Seniors Australia, the Older Persons Advocacy Network and Dementia Australia, the COVID-19 support line will operate Monday to Friday, except public holidays, from 8.30am to 6pm on 1800 171 866.