Pointers for Policy in an Ageing New Zealand

Judith A. Davey

Recently I was in Wanaka, invited there to give the first of their four sessions entitled “Living in the Third Age: Navigating a changing demographic”, which continue through March. My title was as above – “Pointers for Policy in an Ageing New Zealand”. It was extremely well organised and attended by almost 200 people, in the hall of a modern church not far from the lake. After the size of the audience – well-informed and engaged – I was most impressed with the up-to-date technology which was available, all of which worked without a hitch.

My aim was to set out some of the policy challenges associated with population ageing and to stimulate discussion. There was a very active question and answer question after my talk (and morning tea). Here are some of the issues and questions which I posed – many arising out of my research – and which figured in the subsequent discussion.

I put out four major policy challenges –

1. Ensuring adequate retirement incomes.
This not only centred on the sustainability of NZ Superannuation (important though that is), but also the recognition that this is only one part of the “eco-system” which I outlined in an earlier blog (September 2018). There are other policies which contribute to the adequacy of NZS – Kiwi Saver, free or subsidised health services, the Accommodation Supplement, Super Gold Card, Winter Energy Payment, Total Mobility Scheme and so on.

Then there are ways in which people can contribute to the self-funding of their retirement incomes – through their own savings and earnings and mobilising capital from their housing by downsizing and equity release. I asked whether, in the future as the NZS demand grows, we might be called upon draw on our own resources to a greater extent – “decumulating” assets which we have accumulated/saved through life.

2. Support for Ageing in Place.
I have frequently tried to emphasise that, in the future, we will see very much higher numbers of very old people, the majority of them women, living alone in mainstream housing in the community and in need of supportive services. 85 plus is the fastest-growing age group and over 80% live in the community; 1/3 of the men and 2/3 of the women live alone. The majority require some supportive services, as disability is high in this age group. This support comes from a range of sources, from family, neighbors and friends, from voluntary organisations, commercial firms, local, regional and central government agencies. How can these work together and how will responsibility be shared?

3. The implications of an ageing labour force.
We will soon be in the situation where more people are leaving the workforce than moving into it. Emerging labour and skill shortages bring concerns about productivity and economic growth (see series of blogs in mid 2015). More and more people aged 65 and older remain in paid work, which has benefits for themselves (supplementing other sources of retirement income), but also for government (raising the tax base to pay for costs related to ageing); for employers, and hence for the economy as a whole.

The challenge is to adapt jobs to make them more attractive and more appropriate for older people and, at the same time, to keep up the functional capacity of older workers through (re)training and health promotion. There needs to be adjustment on both sides – jobs and workers.

4. Promoting Positive/Active Ageing.
In 2007, Alan Walker said – “Active ageing should be a comprehensive strategy to maximise participation and well-being as people age. It should operate simultaneously at the individual (lifestyle), organisational (management) and societal (policy) levels and at all stages of the life course.”

This is another challenge – trying to get different policy levels and different sectors (including individual action) to work together for the benefit of all. But what can government do? I concluded with a list –

  • Maximise the potential of older workers
  • Encourage flexible retirement options
  • Redistribute public health resources from cure to prevention across the life course
  • Get on with long-term planning for health service delivery – target chronic conditions
  • Have a stable retirement income system
  • Enhance measures to support ageing in place
  • Challenge and remove ageism/age barriers.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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