By Keryn Curtis
Panel, left to right: Peter Phibbs, Andrew Macinulty, Anna Howe, Julian Disney, Sue Macri
One of Australia’s leading housing research experts has called for aged housing to become the centrepiece of ageing policy.
Professor Andrew Jones, Director of the Queensland Research Centre of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) told delegates at the Future Housing for Older Australians Symposium in Sydney last Friday that aged housing was the foundation of successful ageing population policy yet it remained neglected by governments.
“Appropriate housing is central to well-being and quality of life for older people,” said Professor Jones in his keynote address. “It plays a preventive health role and reduces demand on health services. It enables effective and efficient delivery of community care services and it facilitates social participation.”
“It can also supplement retirement incomes and help people pay for services.”
“A government which addresses the issues of aged housing will enjoy a financial pay-off in the reduced costs of health outcomes and the demands on aged care,” he said.
Professor Jones said aged housing needed an elevated status alongside income support, health and aged care in policy debates.
“Aged housing has been neglected and it slips between the ageing and housing portfolios. It doesn’t sit as a clear responsibility for the Minister for Ageing, nor does it get sufficient focus in the housing portfolio. The issues related to aged housing do not get sufficient attention at either the federal or state level and there is no particular piece of legislation that this area is related to,” he said.
Professor Jones said Australia needed an older person’s housing policy and someone in government to take responsibility for it.
“The area has suffered from inertia on the part of policy makers. It hasn’t got the push to put it on the political agenda, but a lack of research is no longer a barrier.
“Focusing on housing is a cost effective way of dealing with the problems that a demographic shift and a rapidly ageing population present us with,” Professor Jones said.
Tax reforms required
Professor Julian Disney, Director of the University of NSW Social Justice Project, also spoke at the symposium, calling on governments to make significant changes to the tax system such as reducing incentives for negative gearing and reducing stamp duty on house sales for older Australians.
“Now is the time to consider how to best help future older people – there will be many more of them and they will face situations far worse than most older people of this generation face,” Professor Disney said.
“Currently, 70 per cent of older Australians own their own homes outright, but in future far more people will still be paying large amounts in rent or mortgage payments throughout their old age.
“Also the current system excludes the family home from the pension assets test, which helps to inflate house prices and encourages people to stay in large family homes for as long as possible – even when their home is no longer suitable as they age.”
Professor Disney also urged financial institutions to play a greater role in housing investment to support an increasing ageing population.
“Australia’s housing investment is dominated by mum and dad investors in a few rental properties. We need more banks and super funds to become heavily involved in residential investment to improve the amount and suitability of housing supply. Australian super funds currently invest more in housing in other countries than they do in Australia.”
An overwhelming response
Barbara Squires, general manager, ageing for the Benevolent Society – the co-host of the symposium event with AHURI – said aged housing had now clearly become a central platform in ageing policy.
“Housing, and especially affordable housing, is a vitally important issue that’s only now starting to take hold in peoples’ minds. And there is so much awareness and interest now; it’s an issue whose time has come,” said Ms Squires.
Ms Squires said the one-day symposium had attracted overwhelming interest from aged care providers and stakeholders from all over Australia and even New Zealand.
“We had originally expected to attract up to 150 delegates to this event but we got 240.
Lots were from the not-for-profit care sector but the interesting thing is that they were all saying that they are starting to understand that premise now – that housing really is a first-order, foundation component of caring for older people.
Ms Squires said the relationship between housing and care had become increasingly clear during the process of trying to establish the ‘Apartments for Life’ project – based on the Humanitas model in the Netherlands – for the Benevolent Society.
“We wanted to base our policy and practice on the best evidence available and so inevitably we used a lot of AHURI research to inform our thinking.
“As an organisation, we have realised how important affordable housing is across the lifespan. With ‘Apartments for Life’, we had to learn a huge amount about housing and older people but we know from our work with families that affordable housing is a problem issue for the whole of Australia.
“The affordability of our housing across Australia generally is rapidly declining and many people are suffering. When I started in Apartments for Life, I was more interested in the care issues to keep people independent for as long as possible but I realised that housing is the cornerstone for making that happen.”
The full list of proceedings will be posted at www.ahuri.edu.au/futurehousing