Tomorrow (1 October) is International Day of Older Persons and this year the theme is The future we want: what older persons are saying.
According to Australia’s Council on the Ageing (COTA), Australia’s five and a half million older citizens say they want a future free from discrimination; to be able to participate fully in Australian society; and to have access to quality and affordable services when they need them.
COTA Australia Chief Executive Ian Yates says compared to many other countries, most older Australians can enjoy a reasonable standard of living. But we still have a long way to go to treat all older people with the respect they deserve.
In Australia the Age Discrimination Act provides protection against discrimination on the basis of age in relation to employment, education, accommodation and access to services. However, COTA Australia believes our age discrimination laws are weaker than any of the other anti-discrimination Acts.
“Over a third of older Australians say they have directly experienced age-related discrimination,” said Mr Yates. “Nearly a third of the long term unemployed on the inadequate Newstart Allowance are over 55 and many face poverty for life as they languish, often unable to find employment for ten years or more, before they qualify for the properly indexed aged pension.”
According to an Australian Human Rights Commission report, The Road So Far – the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) (2011), the majority of complaints received in relation to age discrimination are in the area of employment.
One of the major barriers for older people in the workforce are the negative stereotypes and misconceptions around ageing. In an attempt to address the issue, the Australian Human Rights Commission has launched the Age Positive project to promote diverse and positive portrayals of older Australians.
Another challenge for older Australians in 2013 is access to affordable housing. COTA says homelessness in people aged over 70 is on the rise and “The issue is particularly acute for those older people on pensions struggling to meet the cost of private rentals, and for older women who have been home carers and don’t have any superannuation to fall back on.”
Mr Yates says older people tell COTA they want to enjoy the same rights and entitlements as the rest of the population, not be consigned to second class citizenship.
“What older people really want is to be able to continue to have an active, healthy and productive life for as long as possible, with appropriate supports if required,” he said.
“They want to have the option to stay in the workforce for as long they choose, contribute to community, age in their homes and communities and access good quality and affordable health and aged care should they need it.”
“Solutions exist to all these issues, ” said Mr Yates. “But they require a co‐ordinated approach across Federal government portfolios and I urge the newly elected government to commit to developing an Ageing Strategy which takes a whole‐of government approach to an ageing population.”
Photo credit: Australian Human Rights Commission