The Morrison Government is supporting senior Australians through two new initiatives to prevent loneliness and social isolation under a $6 million communications package.
The Be Connected program will provide digital devices and support to older residents to help them connect with friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic, while also helping to boost IT skills.
Federal Member for Bonner Ross Vasta MP said with more than 22,000 seniors in his electorate, these grants would also help many of them to build confidence using digital technology.
“In addition to the Be Connected program, an additional $5 million will be used to expand the Friend Line, a national telephone support service for older Australians, to answer 60,000 calls a year.
“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 no seniors in Bonner will feel lonely or isolated.”
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said access to timely support as well as digital and social connections was 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.
“These grants will help provide devices such as a laptop or tablet and data plans to older Australians who would otherwise be at risk of disconnecting,” Minister Fletcher said.
“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.”
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck said the funding for Friends Line would enable its provider Friends for to expand the service through to 30 June 2024.
“Friend Line is a free and anonymous telephone service that will provide older Australians an opportunity to chat with a friendly volunteer,” Minister Colbeck said.
“In the first year Friend Line anticipates answering 20,000 calls scaling up to at least 60,000 a year after that up from 5600 calls a year currently.”
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 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.
To find a Be Connected program near you visit https://beconnected.esafety.gov.au/find-local-help