Brains fest on the ageing population (VIDEO)

Social policy heavyweights challenge dominant views on the ageing population

Real solutions to the challenges of an ageing population are being impeded by the way we view the ‘problem’, according to former political commentator and public intellectual, the Hon Dr Barry Jones AO.

Dr Jones joined other eminent social policy commentators including social justice activist and current head of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney and ANU’s Professor of Economics at the Research School of Social Sciences in the Australian National University, Bob Gregory, speaking at a seminar hosted jointly by the Australian Association of Gerontology (NSW) and the Council on the Ageing NSW.

The Silver Century: Prospects and Problems seminar, held in Sydney last week, presented a forum for thoughtful, wide ranging discussion on aspects of the ageing population debate that speakers argued were often overlooked or not understood.

Dr Barry Jones said that policy makers continue to make the mistake of conflating the demographic group commonly referred to as ‘the third age’ with ‘the fourth age’ demographic group, and catastrophising our future in the process. 

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Jones said approximately 28 per cent of the population belongs to the ‘first age’ of childhood and youth, a period of immaturity, dependence, socialisation and education; the ‘second age’ – the demographic characterised by maturity, independence, parenting and work – represents 58 per cent of our population.  About 12 per cent of the population is in the ‘third age’ – the period of retirement or a decrease in work, growing old but independent and often seeking personal fulfilment.  The period of health decline and dependency – the fourth and final ‘age’ – is only two per cent of our population.

“The problem with welfare bureaucrats is that they add 12 and 2 per cent and they get 14 per cent and then they say “we’ll all be ‘rooned’”.  They can’t grasp the idea that we need to make a distinction,” said Dr Jones.

“It might be argued that the third age is the age of greatest freedom, the age of personal achievement. And it’s a time when we have the most control over our use of time and potentially a lot to offer in terms of voluntary work. 

“We need to have a prudential approach.  We have to look at the distribution of the population and find the best way to make it work, with vertical policies, not just horizontal ones,” he said.

“But who is advocating for this group?,” said Jones.  “Politicians only respond to what they know and they take silence as proof that there’s no problem.  With nobody really advocating for the third age, the focus is all on the fourth.”

Sweating the detail

Julian Disney called for a range of policies including tax reforms, investment in transport infrastructure and affordable housing quotas to help Australia meet the challenges of the next 30 years.

Professor Disney said housing affordability was a key and growing problem in Australia.

“According to two different international measures, our housing is 40 per cent or 63 per cent overpriced, compared with other cities in the world and we don’t talk about it,” said Professor Disney.
 
He said we need to encourage greater investment in affordable housing by the financial sector and other institutional investors, adopt more of the tax reforms recommended by the recent Henry review, create a simplified universal aged pension and encourage the growth of medium sized cities to help address increasing social and housing inequity. 

Measures such as an increase in the retirement age and policies to encourage part time work between ages 65 and 70 would have almost no impact at all on the cost of the aged pension, according to economist Professor Bob Gregory (see video).

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“If you look at those people who take up the aged pension the day they turn 65, the vast majority are merely switching from some other benefit or pension,” said Professor Gregory.

“Ninety per cent of men going onto the full aged pension are coming off either unemployment benefit or a disability pension, especially the disability pension, so moving the retirement age makes absolutely no difference to this group.”

“We can’t be mesmerised by the post-65 age group when you are talking about low income groups,” said Professor Gregory.

“When discussing social policy, people tend to have stereotypes in mind based on their own experiences and people they know but we need to understand that there are large numbers of people who are, say 48, and will be on a disability pension next year and they will be there until retirement at whatever age that is.”

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Tags: affordable-housing, ageing-population, australian-association-of-gerontology, barry-jones, bob-gregory, council-on-the-ageing, julian-disney, social-policy, the-silver-century, third-age,

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