What older Australians want

This week two seniors advocacy groups have released their political demands ‘on behalf of’ older Australians for Election 2013. Despite their disagreement on the number of over 50-year-old voters (National Seniors quote 47 per cent of the population, while COTA Australia quotes nearly 40 per cent*), their aims are very similar. The National Seniors are calling for reforms in four key areas:

  • Strong economy
  • Sustainable cost of living
  • Improved health care
  • A nation for all ages

ABC AM reporter, Ashley Hall, questioned National Seniors’ chief, Michael O’Neill as to whether the 50-plus cohort was a rather disparate group, and in reply O’Neill confirmed it was, but pointed out that there are a lot of common themes.

COTA Australia’s ‘New Deal’ is seeking:

  • An end to ageism and age discrimination
  • Increased workforce participation
  • Quality aged care services
  • A reasonable standard of living

The National Seniors’ membership base is traditionally strongest in Queensland and New South Wales, whilst COTA Australia seems to have better coverage in South Australia and Victoria. Both organisations receive Federal Government funding for various activities.
(*According to the most recent ABS summary from the census, 47 per cent of Australians are aged 50 and over, of whom a very limited number will be excluded from voting due to reduced mental capacity.)

Listen to ABC AM on National Seniors’ roadmap.
Read COTA Australia’s full Federal election Platform here.

Opinion: What older Australians really want

Two rival advocacy groups have thumped their demands on the table for Election 2013. But how representative are they? And how useful are their demands?

National Seniors is a Queensland-based membership organisation which describes itself as a not-for-profit advocacy group. It does, however, receive federal government funding for research and other activities. COTA describes itself as a member-based organisation and quotes 30,000 as its member magazine circulation figure, but more than 80 per cent of its income comes from grants from federal, state and local governments. So both organisations are treading a fine line when it comes to criticizing the policies of the governments which fund them.

But let’s start by considering the positives of their election requests. Both organisations have put a lot of work into creating a detailed picture of the many and various concerns that affect older Australians. But the very detailed policy statements miss a fairly obvious and incredibly important point.

Firstly, as ABC Radio’s Ashley Hall indicated – to lump all over-50s into one cohort is a bit of a stretch. There are, in fact, three distinct groups when it comes to older Australians and their policy needs are very different.

Firstly, the pre-retirees (generally aged 50-65).

Their needs are often work related and it is here that discrimination must be tackled much harder. Access to training, more stable superannuation legislation and retirement planning support is also critical.

Next the retirees (say 60 to 80 year olds) of whom approximately 70 per cent exist on a full or part Age Pension. This group has taken a massive hit to their retirement nest eggs courtesy of the GFC combined with a lower income stream as interest rates tumble. But most importantly, the rate of the Age Pension is simply not enough to support a reasonable existence. In fact, the level of Australia’s Age Pension is simply the most important issue on the table for this group of older Australians and it needs to be increased sooner rather than later. CPI adjustments are not enough to put food on the table in most pensioners’ households.

And the third group of older Australians is those aged 80 and over, most of whom are accessing aged care in their homes, and a smaller proportion facing the need to move to a residential facility. Let’s face it; aged care is in crisis in Australia today. This group needs support to understand the confusing aged care maze. There is little point offering consumer-directed care if consumers have no idea of their entitlements or obligations.

So it’s time to be much more specific about the needs of the different groups of older Australians and what will best support them at their particular age and stage.

Regardless of which party forms government in September, there is a massive backlog of policy reform needed to support older Australians to lead productive and happy lives both now and in the future.

What do you think? Are you happy with the National Seniors and/or COTA demands? Or do you think there are other more pressing needs? If so, what are your ‘demands’ of our pollies as they head to the polls?

Written by Kaye Fallick