Report tells why ageing populations are an asset

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Governments are being urged to invest in preventative healthcare to maximise the potential of older people.

The International Longevity Centre (ILC), whose mission is to “help societies address longevity and population ageing in positive and productive ways”, has released a report, Health equals Wealth, that calls for an “ageing society new deal” to ensure governments better support older people to work, spend, care and volunteer.

“We’ve become accustomed to our ageing population being presented as a bad thing,” write report authors Sophia Dimitriadis and Patrick Swain. “Policy makers are so fixated on the direct costs of ageing that they fail to notice the significant and growing contributions that older people make.

“This prevents them from fully realising the social and economic potential of older people – and from appreciating the potential longevity dividend.”

Ms Dimitriadis and Mr Swain point out that workers aged 50 and over earn every third dollar in the G20 economy. By 2035, older workers are projected to generate nearly 40 per cent of all G20 earnings.

They say that nations must prioritise older people’s contributions because:

  • in countries that spend more in health, older people work, volunteer, and spend more
  • people who report being in good rather than poor health are more than four times more likely to be in work between the ages of 50 and 65, and more than 10 times more likely between 65 and 74
  • increasing preventative health spend by just 0.1 per cent can unlock a 9 per cent increase in annual spending by people aged 60 plus and an additional 10 hours of volunteering.

Their analysis of 27 European countries proves older people are working longer, becoming a bigger part of the consumer market and their unpaid contributions are strengthening communities and underpinning the formal economy.

And it confirmed that older people in good health (those who have better cognition, are less limited in daily activities and/or who report being in good health) work, volunteer and spend more.

“To achieve better health, we must prioritise preventative health interventions, as these are the most cost-effective. Prevention not only reduces treatment costs but supports the wider economy. As our economies become increasingly reliant on such economic contributions, the case for investment becomes urgent.”

Such insights are not new. In 2016, Australia’s age discrimination commissioner, the late Susan Ryan, said: “The economic potential of older Australians is huge.

“If and when we tackle the discrimination that forces people out of work years before they want to leave, the potential will be even greater.

“Individuals who are able to keep working, (and there are increasing numbers of them) at least to Age Pension age or a few years beyond, not only make important additional contributions to the national economy, they increase their own capacity to consume products of all kinds and purchase a diversity of services. Thus, they directly contribute to employment growth across all sectors.

“Already Australians over 55 own more than half the nation’s assets. This fact is usually ignored in the plethora of fear mongering about the alleged burdens of our ageing population.”

Ms Ryan said a modest increase in workforce participation by over-55s would bring billions to the national economy and reduce public expenditure on age pensions and health.

She quoted a report commissioned by the Australian Human Rights Commission that estimated a $32 billion impact on the economy with an increase of just 3 per cent of over-55s.

“And, let’s not forget that there are other significant benefits to employing older workers: benefits to business; benefits to productivity; benefits of a healthier workforce; and benefits to business of recruiting to reflect the changing age profile of the consumer base.”

Ms Ryan estimated a lift to gross domestic product of $40 billion over a decade if labour force participation by people with disabilities rose by 10 percentage points.

The ILC’s figures are equally impressive: “If we tackle the avoidable barriers preventing older people from contributing … (nations) could see an average GDP gain of around 7 per cent – or an aggregate GDP boost of US$3.7 trillion.”

Key suggestions of the ILC’s Ageing Society New Deal:

  • invest in health and recognise its economic value
  • spend at least 6 per cent of health budgets on prevention
  • ensure that spending on preventative health keeps pace with the growth in preventable ill-health
  • tailor health interventions to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups and prioritise health spending on disadvantaged populations of all ages
  • incentivise technology innovation that supports productivity, rather than displacing workers
  • remove regulatory barriers (such as mandatory retirement ages) and incentivise and support people to work for longer in flexible roles
  • invest in opportunities for lifelong learning
  • ensure formal care provision develops to meet increasing need
  • develop strategies to support businesses to capture an ageing consumer market, including support for innovators across sectors and existing businesses that wish to adapt
  • allocate funding to local governments to support inclusion within communities, for example, through action to make transport and public spaces accessible and inclusive
  • regularly measure unpaid contributions and calculate their social and economic benefits
  • consider the impact of health on unpaid contributions when making decisions about investing in health (such as cost-benefit analysis models)
  • develop strategies to support older carers and grandparents
  • develop strategies to support and incentivise volunteering, including removing barriers to participation particularly for disadvantaged groups.

The ILC contends that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an “exceptional opportunity” to support older people.

“Amidst the devastation it has caused, it has shown us how our economies are linked to health and exposed the dangers of under-investing in prevention. Let’s use this shift in mind-set to commit the funds today that we’ll need to realise a longevity dividend tomorrow.”

Does our government invest enough in older people? Do you feel older people are underused?

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Written by Will Brodie



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