The Labor party has announced it will step in to save Switchboard’s LGBTI elder outreach program Out and About if the party wins the next federal election.

In January, Switchboard announced that federal government funding cuts threatened to shut down the program.

But the Victorian support service today announced that the Opposition Spokesperson for Ageing and Mental Health Julie Collins had visited the Switchboard offices to commit to filling the funding shortfall if Labor takes government at this year’s election.

Collins, who is Member for Franklin, said the government would commit $300,000 over three years to the keep the program going.

“This program is really really important locally here in Victoria both in Melbourne and regionally,” she said.

“And I can’t believe that just a couple of weeks before Christmas that the Government reduced this funding to such an organisation and a program that supports the LGBTI Aged Care Action Plan and strategy that the government says it supports.

“I don’t know why the Government would make this decision and I am really pleased that the Shorten Labor government, if we win the next election, will fund $300,000 over 3 years to ensure that the program can continue.

“To ensure that people get the support that they need, that they want and that they value in their community.”

Switchboard CEO Joe Ball said that the cuts had a major effect on the organisation’s ability to deliver services.

“The loss of two thirds of our funding since December has had a huge impact,” Ball said.

Switchboard says they have been in contact with the Department of Health as well as the office of Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Ken Wyatt regarding the cuts.

“The loss of funding has meant that we are no longer able to meet our service targets of 65 recipients and instead are struggling to visit just 27 recipients.

“I cannot stress enough that the loss of a program Out and About would be devastating to the many older, socially
isolated and lonely LGBTIQ community members.

“I would like to acknowledge that as a result of Switchboard’s advocacy, and the support of some key community organisations like Transgender Victoria, drummond street services, Thorne Harbour Health and JOY 94.9, we have had some very hopeful communication with Minister Wyatt’s office, but nothing has been signed off,” said Ball.

Toni Paynter, a user of the Out and About service, was present at the announcement, and said the program helps prevent the feeling of being “locked away”.

“Some things you can hide but being trans … for a lot of us it’s not possible to hide (not that you should have to).

“So anything that can make you feel more comfortable in your environment is important. It’s a constant battle.

“So it’s great to have someone to visit me and we generally go out for coffee and we talk about anything other than mental health issues. It helps keep my confidence up.”

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