Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has flagged a need for older people to work longer and learn new skills to avoid becoming an economic burden. But, says Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia CEO Geoff Rowe, older Australians are not the cause of the fundamental problem.
Ageism is alive and well in Australia.
Older people are still perceived as a burden, rather than being recognised for the work they’ve done over their lifetime in building the infrastructure that we currently enjoy. The recent interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care got it right — “as a nation, Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities”.
When we talk about older Australians as a drain on the economy, we make them responsible for a problem that’s not of their making. The reality is, there are an awful lot of Australians over the age of 50 who have lost their jobs and have found it very difficult to find further employment. They would love to be employed, but nobody is willing to hire them.
They would love to be employed, but nobody is willing to hire them.
If we’re going to change the prevailing attitude of ageism in Australia, we need to see a change in attitude from our leaders. We need our government to recognise the huge contribution that older Australians have made over the course of their lifetimes, and acknowledge the problems they face today.
If our leaders are serious about getting older people back to work, then there’s an opportunity here for them to take the lead. Why not introduce a quota system for Commonwealth employees? Why not declare that, say, 20 per cent of all Commonwealth employees will be people over the age of 60, and proactively recruit older people for those roles? Supporting older people who want to continue to work is a much more positive and helpful strategy than encouraging everybody to work longer in a system that doesn’t want them.
Reskilling for older people can be a fantastic thing, if we take a realistic approach instead of a blanket approach. But the idea that all older people can be re-trained into employment is simply wishful thinking.
The idea that all older people can be re-trained into employment is simply wishful thinking.
We know that because of circumstances outside their control, the educational opportunities afforded to many older people in their youth were limited. In the post-war period, when many families had lost their fathers, there was a need for people to enter the workforce rather than pursue higher education. Those people have spent their entire lives doing manual labour, and they’re worn out — training to do another manual labour job is unrealistic. But learning to do something more ‘intellectual’ is also very challenging for them, because it’s been 50 years since they were at school.
We also need to consider where the jobs are. A significant number of older people live in regional and rural Australia, and the unemployment rates there are much higher than in metropolitan cities. If I lived in one community all of my life, I’m unlikely to leave my family and all of my friends and move to the city at the age of 65 for employment.
We know the Australian population is ageing, and we know the tax base to support older Australians is diminishing. We do need strategies to combat that, and we do need action. But our leaders need to work with older people to come up with the solutions, rather than making pronouncements about their working lives from on high. Older people have great ideas to contribute, so let’s include them in a think tank and look at how we can provide better outcomes for everybody.
Australia has a problem with seeing past the grey to see the individual, and that’s to our great shame, because we should be harnessing the incredible wisdom that older people have to offer.
Australia has a problem with seeing past the grey to see the individual…
They aren’t a burden — they deserve our respect.