Auckland District Council of Social ServicesSenior Citizens
Address to open the ADCSS Symposium on:
Strategies and Services for Older People in the Community. The role of Regional and Local Government
Bethshalom Progressive Synagogue
Manukau Rd, Epsom
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to open this symposium.
I wish to begin by congratulating ADCOSS for arranging the symposium. As Minister for Senior Citizens, I am extremely appreciative of the efforts of all of those involved in the development of social policy and delivery of social services that support communities for all ages.
Before the last election, I was Labour's spokesperson on Youth Affairs. But after becoming the Minister for Senior Citizens, it didn't take me long to realise that the underlying issues were the same. When young people do not have a sense of belonging and participation, they can become alienated and troubled. Older people can become isolated and afraid.
I notice that your symposium last year was about youth, so you will know what I mean. I believe that building or maintaining the ability to participate and nurturing that sense of belonging are vital at either end of life's spectrum, which is why I am a strong supporter of the positive aging approach in my role as Minister for Senior Citizens. I believe many of the solutions lie in connecting generations together, and as I said before building communities for all ages.
Positive Ageing Strategy:
Many of you may already be familiar with the government's Positive Ageing Strategy which was launched in April. It is about promoting positive ageing across the ages so everyone can participate fully in their communities in the way that they choose. It is designed to encourage all ages to think positively about ageing, and about those who are already in the older age range.
The strategy document outlines policy principles for positive ageing, setting out priority goals and key actions. It is intended to be a living document with annual action plans for government agencies, with a monitoring system to check on how they are going. It will take time to achieve the goals, however, the obligation for reporting will be, I believe, a much better insurance against decisions being made without consideration of their impacts on the positive ageing objectives.
As part of monitoring this work, a report on the state of older people and on positive ageing in New Zealand will be produced about every three years; the first of these in October.
Last month, Social Services Minister Steve Maharey and I launched a research report on the Living Standards of Older New Zealanders.
Although it told us that the majority were doing okay, it told us for the first time what factors contributed to those who were not doing well - divorce/separation; death of a spouse; significant period of illness; major hospital operation; low paid jobs; intermittent work; redundancy; lack of additional income; rental accommodation rather than home ownership. The risk of poor living standards increases exponentially with a multiplicity of factors.
This says we have enormous challenges for a generation which didn't experience a job for life, one spouse, one house and the "save first, buy later" ethic.
ISo this document represents a real challenge to the policy makers of today, to get it right for tomorrow. I've described my generation as the 'instant gratification' generation, who buy first pay later, and this document says we are going to be paying in more ways than we care to contemplate.
My generation of retirees will be healthier and better educated than the generation that goes before, however, what challenges are posed by living longer?
This is where we have to ask questions about how we are going to fund health services in the future? Should we contemplate a dedicated tax, or a social insurance approach like Australia? The debate needs to be had sooner rather than later.
Part of the solution lies in preparing ourselves for the changes that are ahead.
The benefits of positive ageing for individuals are obvious. They include good health, independence, intellectual stimulation, self-fulfilment and friendship. But society as a whole has a lot to gain from these outcomes as well. A healthy, happy and confident older population contributes a wealth of expertise and skills to the community and workforce, places less demand on social services, and provides positive role models for younger generations. This is why forums like today's are crucial.
There is of course, only so much central Government can do - we cannot legislate to change attitudes. We need partnerships between central & local government and the community.
Yesterday I attended the official opening of the Older Persons Community Centre in Rotorua. This $1 million purpose-built centre is the product of a community effort involving local organisations and the local district council. It is an excellent example of how the co-operation I was talking about, can work for the benefit of not just the older person, but for the entire community.
The 40+ Project
I would like to comment on the research carried out by Victoria University's School of Psychology. I am aware that all the local authorities represented here today responded to the survey that formulated part of this research. That in itself is encouraging to know, because it shows that there is a desire among Auckland's local authorities, to be more responsive to older NZers and their needs. The report on this research is called "Creating Communities for all Ages: Local Government & Older New Zealanders". It doesn't tell councils what to do, it simply provides examples that reflect the diversity of responses that are possible.
The report is divided into 4 key areas: Political Voice, Housing & Security at Home, Mobility and Transport and Keeping Active.
The research team identified some building blocks for successful services and strategies that local authorities can use when looking to be more responsive to the needs of local older people.
- community-based approaches and consultation
- institutionalising their commitment to services and strategies for older people through the development of plans
- accurately targeting a need
- strong partnerships
- recognising that older people are not simply passive (that is, recognising that people don't retire from life when they retire from work)
- effective marketing and access to information
- strong leadership
The 40+ Project tells us how local authorities can play a crucial role in empowering older people, by -
- questioning attitudes and policies that assume or encourage the dependence of older people,
- ensuring that people have access to information,
- encouraging involvement in the institutions which have decision-making power over matters that affect older people,
- ensuring the provision of basic needs,
- ensuring access to resources which promote wellbeing, including cultural and education resources,
- recognising the value of older people
- freedom from discrimination
Local authorities need to take up this challenge, and together with the government's Positive Ageing Strategy, I am certain that central and local government, can create an environment in which people can age positively.
In closing I want to say that positive attitudes are important if society is to realise that just because people have retired from work, that it doesn't mean they have retired from life altogether.
You may have already heard me say that I often hear people saying that we have to "do" something because of the ageing population, but that never felt right for me, and finally I found the words that expressed what I was feeling.
In launching the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing, Professor Ng said:
"New Zealanders who are now 65 plus are more highly educated and healthier than their predecessors. Their capacity for productive work of all kinds (not necessarily for pay) is a national treasure and this is set to rise with longer life expectancies attainable by more and more New Zealanders.
In about 30 years from now, over 20 % of our population will be made up of this group of Third Agers. Their contribution to New Zealand society is and will continue to be immense. If they are ignored, undervalued, or otherwise excluded from society, New Zealand can hardly be competitive against other countries that have found a way of harnessing this immense resource."
This positive language represents the truth that we must recognise the resource that our older generations represent, and nurture their continuing contribution for the benefit of us all.
And on that note I would like to declare your symposium open.