Relishing the Third AgeSenior Citizens
Address to officially open the Third Age Centre
193 Cashel Street, Christchurch
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to be part of your celebrations today. I am pleased to be speaking to you not only as Minister for Senior Citizens, but also as a Christchurch MP.
Could I start by acknowledging the tremendous work done by the Third Age Foundation in raising awareness of the implications of an older population. The Foundation, in less than a year since its establishment, has put forward real solutions to the issues facing ‘third-agers’ in our region, including the need for active employment, financial advice and assistance, and life-long learning. Today I am proud to open the Third Age Centre – the hub for the aims and aspirations of the Third Age Foundation, a base for John (Patterson) as the Third Age Co-ordinator, the Canterbury Development Corporation, and the Christchurch City Council, which set up the valuable Third Age Programme in 1999 to support the needs of the older people in our city.
Can I congratulate the Christchurch City Council for once again having the vision to commit to a ‘community for all ages’, and the will to deliver on that commitment. I love the way certain interests describe us as the ‘People’s Republic of Christchurch’, because as a city we do put people first in so many ways, and we have a mayor and council that is prepared to offer the leadership we see lacking in other cities. I am always proud to be able to hold Christchurch up as an example to other centres as I travel around New Zealand – and this is particularly so in its commitment to people of all ages and abilities.
2001 was a very busy year for me as Minister for Senior Citizens. I met and spoke to many Senior Citizens groups around the country, including Grey Power, Age Concern and Volunteer Community Co-ordinators groups.
In Wellington, there has been a lot of work done at policy level, reflecting the high level of consultation and partnership between myself, the team in the Senior Citizens’ Unit at the Ministry of Social Development, and numerous community organisations.
A major achievement in the Senior Citizens portfolio was the launch of the Positive Ageing Strategy in April last year, where Mayor Garry Moore joined me in a debate titled ‘Positive Ageing begins the day you’re born’.
The strategy does provide us with some definition – it says:-
“New Zealand will be a positive place in which to age when older people can say that they live in a society that values them, acknowledges their contributions and encourages their participation.”
It is very much about attitude – how we feel about older people, and how older people feel about themselves. Christchurch has a positive reputation for its role in supporting all ages – even to the extent of its commitment to older persons housing, which has provided quality, secure units to a significant number of tenants on low, fixed incomes.
We released a status report last year so we would have a baseline document against which progress towards the Positive Ageing Goals could be measured.
The status report’s sub-title, 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
-the opportunities provided by the changing population in New Zealand.
These are very important themes, and the language is important too. The opportunities provided by an older population should be appreciated from that perspective. If it is approached from the angle of the "burgeoning burden of the ageing population", then a lot of the potential for volunteers, mentors, carers, role models and supporters that exists in this population will not be realised. Using positive language makes an enormous difference in this regard.
In addition to the first monitoring report, in September last year Steve Maharey and I launched 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 over superannuation; rental accommodation rather than home ownership. The risk of poor living standards in retirement increases with the number of factors present.
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. So 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.
There is of course, only so much central Government can do – we cannot legislate to change attitudes. We need partnerships between central and local government and the community to provide the environment for attitudinal change, and to develop community actions that are relevant to each community.
That is very much where this Third Age Centre comes in.
In effect, the establishment of this Third Age Centre represents a regional response to the Positive Ageing Strategy, and the partnership between central government, local government and community is evident.
Once again, congratulations to John Patterson, the Third Age Foundation, the CDC, and Christchurch City Council for their initiative.
And on that note I declare the Third Age Centre, Christchurch, officially open.