I want to take a moment to speak about the fact that Seniors Week occurred in Canberra this/last week. The importance of senior’s week is the recognition of the contribution seniors make to the ACT scene, one which cannot be underestimated. It is about celebrating older people and their continuing contribution to family, friends, workplaces and communities, and across generations.
The truth is that Canberra is facing a growing older population. Figures released in the last couple of weeks revealed that the ACT population is projected to grow by 6% in the next four years, with the number of people aged 65-84 increasing by 16%. Whilst the population aged 85 years and over is projected to increase by 1%.
Let’s put that into perspective. The proportion of the population aged 65 years and over is projected to increase by around 7,450 people, reaching a total of about 56,500 in 2020. This will be just over 13% of the expected population of 421,840.
Let me dispel the view, however, that seniors are a burden on our society because they are assumed to be ‘high maintenance’ residents. Yes, health issues are important to seniors, but they face disproportionate blame for rising health care costs. People are living longer and thus need to access more health services but a significant component of increasing healthcare costs is the improvements in technology and the improved quality of care offered to all residents.
Moreover, a significant number, particularly here in the ACT, are self-funded retirees with no claims on the public purse. Just the opposite – since they are active and considerable consumers, indulging in a lot of discretionary expenditure to the benefit of the ACT economy.
Yet, too much focus is placed on the costs to support seniors, rather than considering the economic value of their contributions to our society.
Meanwhile, whilst senior classification is deemed to start at 60, governments, for financial reasons, are pushing up the eligibility date progressively to try to limit access to concessions. The numbers requiring assistance are far smaller than those who contribute strongly to the local economy.
Seniors make contributions across a range of areas. A large number have valuable qualifications and experience which are offered free of charge to the benefit of the community through extensive volunteering involvements. Many organisations could not function as effectively as they do now, without this support.
Many older residents are also involved in caring responsibilities. These include caring for their partners/spouses, for children with disabilities or economic/living problems, or take on grandparent duties so their offspring can participate to a greater degree in the economy. These contributions are seriously undervalued in Canberra.
There are merits in portraying Canberra as an age-friendly city, as more seniors can be attracted to stay or move to Canberra, thus extending this hugely valuable knowledge and experience base. Age-friendly city developments generally affect the whole population, and make the city more liveable for all, not only the senior cohort.
The biggest problem facing seniors is that policy makers have not realised the full potential for this cohort to contribute to the territory nor have they sought to exploit, to any significant degree, the talents available.
Many seniors are interested and available to continue working or to offer their skills and experience on a voluntary basis. But they need encouragement and recognition rather than being pigeon-holed into a category of a burdensome group needing the support of younger taxpayers.
It is time to show more respect for the contributions of Canberra’s senior’s community, during this week, when it is brought again to our attention, but also beyond.
The challenge is how to make a senior ACT residents more aware of issues and services that can contribute in a positive way to their lifestyles. We need to raise awareness of issues affecting senior citizens and we need to be proactive in encouraging them to adopt active ageing practices, to improve their fitness and to maintain mental acuity.