Positive Ageing in a World of DiversitySenior Citizens
Opening Address to the Positive Ageing Forum
Wellington Law School
Thank you for joining us today at this forum, which has as its theme ‘Positive ageing in a World of Diversity’.
I acknowledge yet again the superb work of Natalie Lavery and the Senior Citizens Unit team in bringing this the third of a series of policy forums together. Ministers don’t often get the chance to publicly acknowledge the support they get from their officials, however, I regard myself as extremely lucky to have such a high quality team that given its size, always ‘punches above its weight’. I also acknowledge the support we get from the Ministry of Social Development, which has been vital for much of the work we have been involved in this year.
I also take this opportunity to thank all the Volunteer Community Co-ordinators for taking the Positive Ageing Strategy back to their regions, bringing it to life in a meaningful way. It is not surprising given the extent of the commitment that has been made, that the Positive Ageing Strategy has become one of the most sought after government documents, with two reprints already under its belt.
I also acknowledge the local government representation here today as well. The concept of positive ageing linked as it is to the development of communities for all ages, means that it cannot happen from here. Central government, local government and community must work in partnership if we are to achieve the goals established by the Strategy.
The purpose of today’s forum is to extend the community partnerships already established between local councils and the VCCs working to promote positive ageing in their communities. It is also an opportunity for networking and for exchanging information about policy issues affecting older people. So I hope you all take advantage of the occasion.
In addition there is a really interesting programme including our Race Relations Conciliator Gregory Fortuin, who I think you will be really impressed with. I have heard him speak on several occasions now, and I find him utterly inspirational, so I hope you do too. He will pick up the theme of positive ageing and cultural diversity.
You will also be hearing from Mr Colin Blair, the Retirement Commissioner. I have been thoroughly impressed with the new advertising strategy, based on a mouse and a web-site called www.sorted.org.nz. It is an amazing web-site and I recommend it to every age group – there is something for everyone on it. But I won’t go any further as I’m sure Colin will want to present the details to you.
The next session involves John Jensen and Bev Hong, authors of the Living Standards research. The research itself is uncontroversial – its reporting in the media was. The headlines indicating that ‘the elderly’ (media language not mine) were doing OK, has not been well-received by those organisations who know those that are not doing OK. I will leave John and Bev to talk through the research, however, I am concerned that affirmative responses to some of the measures are utterly unacceptable in a developed society, and anything less than a nil response should be our aim. An example would be those who couldn’t buy enough electricity to keep their house warm, and went to bed early to keep warm. That is unacceptable, and we must work to ensure that no-one is forced to make such ‘choices’.
I have said that one of the challenges posed by the research is what it means for future generations of retirees.
This cohort largely experienced one job, one house, one spouse for life, and grew up with the ethic of ‘save first, buy later’. My generation, which I have labelled as the ‘instant gratification generation’ buys first and pays later, and this report suggests we’ll be paying in more ways than we realise. Poor living standards in retirement are avoidable, and we need to get that message out.
I believe the Positive Ageing Strategy gives us an opportunity to do that, by encouraging people to think about retirement early on – not in a negative way, but in a positive way.
I also note that you have Professor Judy McGregor: Head of the Department of Communication and Journalism, Massey University. She is a marvellous resource, and you might like to explore with her how the media could be targeted to produce those positive messages to reinforce positive ageing.
Positive Ageing Status Report
Since the last forum, I have released The Status Report, Positive Ageing in New Zealand: He Oranga Kaumâtua i Aotearoa. The Status Report provides a comprehensive description of the situation of older people in New Zealand today, and has provided us with the baseline that we will need to measure progress towards the goals of the Positive Ageing Strategy. The sub-title of the Status Report, Diversity, Participation and Change, reflects the following themes that are recognised throughout the report:
·The diversity of older people;
·The continued participation of older people in all aspects of society; and,
·The opportunities provided by the changing population in New Zealand.
The first section of the status report provides an overview of data, information and analysis, both demographic and economic, to set the context for discussing specific policy issues. The second section provides specific information on the ‘status’ of older people in New Zealand, using the ten positive ageing goals as subject headings.
A number of emerging issues relevant to each of the positive ageing goal areas, noted at the beginning of each chapter, meet the intention of the report to help identify issues It identifies a range of emerging issues, which include:
·The importance of retirement planning for younger generations and the need to consider the affects of the different life histories of future retirees;
·Encouraging healthy lifestyles throughout the lifecycle to achieve important health benefits in older age, especially so that the life expectancy of older Mâori and their whânau, and older Pacific peoples can increase;
·The importance of developing housing interventions in conjunction with policies for health and social services for an ageing population who may not have mortgage-free home ownership in retirement;
·Increasing the understanding, in Government agencies, of the role and significance of Kaumâtua in Te Ao Mâori, the Mâori world;
·The need for services appropriate for the growing number of older Mâori, Pacific peoples and older people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The greater ethnic diversity in the older population also requires different opportunities for participation;
·The increasing use of use of information and communication technologies and the importance of telecommunications infrastructures for rural communities;
·The importance of intergenerational programmes for increasingly mobile families in New Zealand;
·The significant impact that unemployment within ten years of retirement has on the quality of life in retirement. This indicates the importance of employment policies aimed at retaining older workers; and,
Perhaps most importantly, as the final section of the status report relates, the growing number of older people increases the importance of providing opportunities for their skills and experience to be utilised.
The language of opportunity is extremely important in my view. Thinking of the ageing population in negative terms is unhelpful, as we risk ignoring the enormous benefit we can gain from such a wealth of experience and expertise.
So that’s enough from me. I trust that you will enjoy today’s policy forum, and I look forward to returning at the end of the day for the final panel discussion.