Positive Ageing

Effective reforms of our aged care system are a matter of urgency, but so are policies that allow people to live strong, healthy lives.

We hear all about the possible implications of an ageing population on our budget and workforce - with the common thread being that older people are a burden on our health, aged care and taxation systems.

Effective reforms of our aged care system are a matter of urgency, but so are policies that allow people to live strong, healthy lives.

We hear all about the possible implications of an ageing population on our budget and workforce - with the common thread being that older people are a burden on our health, aged care and taxation systems.

This is, of course, not the reality. We must reframe the discussion to focus on the strong, positive contribution that older Australians make to our communities and ensure that our policy setting are such that they enhance this contribution. 

Australia's median age continues to increase, due to longer life expectancy and changes to fertility rates. With existing employment models, this trend will see a smaller and younger workforce faced with a growing number of older Australians.

These are serious and important issues that warrant a comprehensive long-term strategy to help us plan for and adapt to the challenges of the future.

Such a strategy unlocks the potential benefits that come from the knowledge, experience and wisdom of older Australians. Many workplaces would no doubt benefit from reaching out to this mature workforce.  Imagine the potential of being able to call on a large body of dedicated and experienced workers or volunteers, with life-long networks and knowledge. For example, our ageing population is potentially a great boon for voluntary and community organisations.

To make this a reality, businesses and organisations need to ensure they have the capacity to reach out to this mature workforce and can meet their specific needs. Governments also need to make sure the necessary legislative reforms are made and that support programs are in place to aid this process.

This requires some consideration of access and flexibility - for people who only want to work a few hours a day, a few days a week, or work only during a particular season.

Improvements in healthcare and quality of life now mean that a person 'retiring' at 65- or indeed 67 in the future- will still expect to be active and engaged in the community for another two or three decades, but perhaps slowing down a little in some areas, and less keen to push themselves in others. 

Many older Australians feel like they're just hitting their stride at this point in their lives, and know they still have some of their most productive years ahead of them.

To match the changing population, part-time and more flexible working conditions will become increasingly important - with semi-retired workers looking for an income that fits in with the vagaries of their superannuation plans, taxation arrangements and pension earnings thresholds. To provide these opportunities, workplaces need to think laterally to identify the kinds of tasks a mature workforce can really add value to.  

We might also see increased demand for work which factors in lifestyle considerations - offering seasonal, part-time or project-based work. Issues around age discrimination in employment are something we will need to overcome and represent one of the biggest barriers for an ageing population. 

We know it is already hard for older workers to find suitable employment. In the 2010/11 financial year, 33% of job seekers aged 55-64 years were unemployed for at least a year, which compares to a rate of just 13% among 15 to 24 year olds.

There are frequent misconceptions about older workers, but the reality is that with appropriate training, workplace structures and the right mindset, workplaces can be greatly enhanced. A good example of this is a workplace that restructures tasks around differing abilities - perhaps looking at how to combine mentoring and co-working arrangements, gaining the benefits of putting together age and experience with the energy and IT savvy of a younger generation.

Such opportunities can provide benefits to businesses, as well as allowing workers to deliver meaningful outcomes at work, and personal development in their own lives. Changes in the workplace and in the minds of employers need to be paired with changes to our health and welfare systems.  Expanding national health initiatives to consider our future needs is an important part of this planning.

By investing in services which help people remain fit and healthy, we can contribute to an improved quality of life and help manage the increasing incidences of chronic diseases and hospital admissions. Accessible and coordinated medical treatments, which include provisions for mental and dental services, must be fundamental components of the health system we develop for the future.

The current welfare system has inbuilt disincentives to combine some work with income support.  By building a more flexible system, people can be encouraged to undertake paid or voluntary work for longer periods of time. 

We know that staying active and feeling valued can make a significant contribution to the health and well-being of our seniors. By re-prioritising our workplaces, health and welfare systems we can focus on keeping people well and encourage them to lead long, productive and meaningful lives.

Aged care providers are facing daily challenges to providing high quality services, adequately pay staff and undertake much needed infrastructure development. Delays to the reform process will only see these problems worsen. Reforms are needed in order to move on from the stop-gap legacy of previous Governments

The Australian Greens are committed to developing and resourcing aged care services to keep older Australians healthy and improve their quality of life.

We will continue to work hard with aged care providers and older Australians to see their needs are met into the future. We need to be proactive - to minimise future costs and deliver better outcomes and quality of life for ageing Australians.

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