ABC Radio Melbourne
The Morrison Government is supporting senior Australians through two new initiatives to prevent loneliness and social isolation under a $6 million communications package.
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.
The Government has also awarded $1 million in grants to 215 local community organisations to provide at-risk seniors with digital devices such as mobile phones and laptops.
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.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us all just how important it is for us all to stay connected,” Minister Ruston said.
“With a third of all senior Australians living alone there is a real need to for this assistance to alleviate loneliness and social isolation.”
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said community organisations across the country would receive funding to provide digital devices to older Australians through the Be Connected program.
“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.”
The grants will be delivered on the ground through local community organisations and managed by Good Things Foundation Australia as the Be Connected National Network Manager.
Minister for Aged care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck said Friends for Good would receive funding to expand their current phone support service Friend Line 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.
“This funding will enable Friends for Good to increase the capacity of their existing telephone service model, greatly extending their opening hours and call volumes.
“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.