In another of my nostalgic moments, trying to winnow down my mountain of paper, I came across notes from a seminar in 1982. This was a report-back by the New Zealand delegates from the World Assembly in Ageing, held in Vienna. They included the well-known names of Margaret Bazley and Margaret Guthrie.
The audience of about 70, including me (in the early stages of my interest in ageing) broke up into discussion groups, after material from the World Assembly had been presented. The groups reported some far-sighted conclusions. In some areas we have seen action in over 30 years, but others still need attention. Here is a summary, with my comments.
Could there be investigation of postponing receipt of universal superannuation (New Zealand Superannuation) beyond age 60, with increased increments at a later stage?
The age of eligibility increased from 60 to 65 in the early nineties. Now a further increase from 65 to 67 has been announced, but only in increments from 2037 (20 years and almost 7 parliamentary terms away). Deferring receipt for a higher pension has been periodically suggested, but there are questions about fairness. Managerial and professional people would find it easier to defer and would end up with higher retirement incomes. Those not in a position to work longer would have a lower NZS and possibly hardship.
The well elderly need stimulation, recreation and education and places to socialise. NGOs could be funded to facilitate schemes using both voluntary and professional workers.
The “young-old” are well represented as volunteers, but staying in paid work longer may limit this activity. There is little to encourage voluntary work and tighter regulations, such as police checks, may put some people off. In parts of the USA volunteers are rewarded by discounts on property taxes (rates) or given vouchers for education which can be transferred to other family members.
There is very little in the way of lifelong learning, re-training and re-skilling for older people.
We need flexibility in the mandatory age for retirement, because “people vary in their ability and interest in work”. What about flexible working hours and job-sharing?
There is no more compulsory retirement here. The Human Rights Act came into effect in 1999. Section 22 forbids employers from discriminating against suitably qualified job applicants on the grounds of age and outlaws compulsory retirement. So it annoys me when people, often the media, talk about “the age of retirement”. I want to shout to them that there is no such thing. They usually mean age of eligibility for NZS.
The Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Act 2007 came into force in July 2008. This provided employees responsible for the care of any person with the right to request flexible working arrangements (variation to their hours, days, or place of work). The amendment was later reviewed, and the provisions extended to all employees. Of course, it still depends on the employer’s agreement.
Women over 50 need better financial support when they are often looking after their families and elderly parents or relatives.
The treatment of working carers is an emerging labour force issue. Many people in their fifties and sixties still have parents alive, many of whom need care and support. In some countries family carers receive payments through the benefits system. But although it has been raised here, it has not become policy. There is no change in the fact that more women than men take on (or are expected to take on) eldercare responsibilities and this may affect their earning ability.
In an ageing population, we need to avoid stereotypes and accommodate differences in expectations of roles and accommodation standards. There is still a negative attitude towards ageing, so there should be lifelong preparation for the later period of life.
The Human Rights Act may officially ban age discrimination, but it remains widespread through stereotypes and expectations that older people will lose their mental and physical capacity and become dependent. The Positive Ageing strategy and the Healthy Ageing Strategy contain exhortations about giving older people respect and dignity, but you only have to look at the birthday card selection for people 60 plus to see that negative attitudes are alive and well.
“The elderly” should have increased participation in their own decisions (I think we know what they mean). One group appealed for full integration of older people, regardless of disability or special needs, in all parts of life, with community support.
We have seen some progress in this area, with the setting up of Elders’ Councils and advisory committees of older people in many local authorities. The movement towards “age-friendly cities and communities”, if the WHO vision is adopted, should improve urban environments for older people, and for everybody. Again the Positive Ageing and Heathy Ageing Strategies call for greater participation for elders. After all, the “giving back” of wisdom is one of the psychological “tasks” of later life.
The seminar passed a unanimous recommendation to the Prime Minister asking government to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the implications of an ageing population and to develop integrated policies concerning: income maintenance; housing; health, employment; social services; education and any other relevant matters.
In closing, the chair, Professor McCreary, noted similarities between these recommendations and the findings of the 1955 Conference on “the Ageing”. Some things do not seem to change, but we can hope!