By Ruby O’Brien
A lack of funding for services for retirees in the Frankston area threatens the social and mental well-being of the elderly, say community leaders in the Dunkley electorate.
David Wirth, president of the Mornington Men’s Shed, says the shed’s daily meetings and workshops give many retirees and widowers a reason to get out of bed. “I think it’s because we’ve got companionship,” he says.
But the Mornington shed, one of several providing support for older men in the electorate, struggles to operate.“As with all Men’s Sheds, we’re starved for funds,” he says.
The need for federal funding to support such services is a sore point in the electorate. An allocation of $3 million in funding in the 2010 Federal Government’s National Male Health Policy has proved inadequate, with most of the 930 sheds around Australia depending largely on the generosity of local businesses and philanthropists.
The Mornington shed is thriving but needs financial help. With over 50 members and an average age of 73, Wirth says the shed contributes significantly to the Dunkley community. The group specialises in woodwork projects, designing and making disabled aids, possum boxes and toys for children.
In early 2015 the shed joined with year 7 and 8 students from Mount Eliza Secondary College to help make wooden surfboards. In return, the children helped the men learn how to use Apple technology products.
Wirth says the connection to the community and to each other has improved the men’s mental well-being.
“They’re an extremely happy bunch,” he says, noting the group has not had a death in more than three years.
Wirth has also noted that candidates have not made any mention of helping the shed in their election promises. Retirees and the elderly are important voters, comprising more than 32 percent of residents in the Frankston area, according to ABS figures. Many elderly people are making ends meet on a pension.
Without the shed, Wirth says many of his older members would find it difficult. “It’s for those who lose their way in life a bit.”
Marion Tracy, head of the Frankston branch of National Seniors Australia, is also acutely aware of the number of older people who lack companionship.
When Tracy attended a zone meeting for National Seniors Australia in April, she realised the problem was widespread. She says many become isolated after their spouse dies.
“Resources are not there for a lot of councils to get someone to go out there and visit these people,” she says.
Tracy says candidates also need to consider the transport needs of the elderly, particularly in Frankston. “We’ve got a good hospital, plenty of medical facilities. But buses are difficult for people to get on.”
Seniors in Dunkley are also keeping their licences for as long as they can, she says, because young people won’t give up their seats up to older people on buses.
“It’s a lack of respect,” Tracy says. “Unfortunately this is the attitude now and I think the elderly notice it more than anyone.”