Retirement Villages Association's Annual Conference

  • David Carter
Senior Citizens

"Preparing for an Ageing Population"

Good morning Association chairman Cliff Cook, my colleague Rt Hon Helen Clark and ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your annual conference here in Auckland today.

Firstly let me say that your association is an excellent example of the kind of industry sector group the Government enjoys interacting with where older people's interests are concerned.

I understand close to half of all retirement village residents in New Zealand live in complexes that belong to your association.

With this kind of representation, you are ably qualified to talk about the issues that concern older people living in retirement homes.

Your association is also notable for the lead role you have taken in promoting self-regulation in the retirement village industry.

Your efforts to establish a Code of Practice and an accreditation programme for your members have improved the quality of facilities, and standards of service, we now see within the industry.

This is reassuring news for the older consumer when looking for retirement village accommodation that will feel comfortable in for the rest of their lives.

Growth

Over the last 15 years New Zealand has seen increasing interest in the provision of facilities for our older population.

The most obvious example of this has to be growth in your industry.

Retirement villages have simply exploded up and down the country.

I understand from a survey you undertook last year that currently 205 retirement villages exist around the country, but another 2000 dwellings are at the planning stage.

Over the next decade your Association expects that the number of retirement villages in New Zealand will double.

What's been boosting the numbers has been the entry of private operators.

While traditionally religious and welfare organisations set up retirement villages, today commercial developers are entering the industry with their own visions.

The older population now has more choice about where they choose to spend the later years of their life - with new developments constantly underway.

As Minister for Senior Citizens I've been privileged over the last few months to take a look at some of these retirement villages, and I have to say what is on offer is certainly impressive.

Your industry has to be congratulated for meeting the market demand for retirement accommodation and for offering the spectrum of choice and diversity that is now apparent.

It is certainly reassuring to see this level of choice offered to the older consumer.

Ageing Population

I'd like to turn now to the very real issue of our ageing population.

Like many other developed countries, New Zealand's population has been "ageing" over recent decades as a result of our declining birth rate and rapid improvements in life expectancy.

Older people now make up a growing proportion of our population.

In March last year, the 65 years and over made up 12 percent of the population, up from 11 percent at the start of the decade in 1991.

By the year 2011, when the baby boom generation of which I am a part of, enters the over-65s, we will see this group grow to 13 percent of the population.

The 65 years and over will then grow to 17 percent of the population by the year 2021, and then grow to a staggering 21 percent by the year 2031.

At the same time, over the next two decades, the age structure of the working age population will also substantially change.

The working age population, that is those between the ages of 16 to 64 years, currently make up 65 percent of the total population.

This figure is forecast to increase slightly to 67 percent by the year 2010, but is then projected to start falling significantly to around 59 percent by the year 2031.

Now what this all means is that over the longer term, proportionally fewer people of working age will be available to generate the resources needed to support the increasing number of retired people.

We have all heard over the last couple of years the debate concerning the future of superannuation in this country.

But the demands of our growing retirees will not only affect the cost of superannuation - they will also impact significantly on our health budget.

As Minister for Senior Citizens I can tell you the figures are quite frightening and they are quite real.

And so is the challenge.

It is not scaremongering on Government's part to raise these issues.

We all need to be aware of the tough decisions we will have to make in the future concerning the level of superannuation which we, as a country, can afford to fund.

International Year of Older Persons

But to prepare for our ageing population however, we have to do more as a nation than just "number-crunch".

This year we have an opportunity to actually change the community's attitude to ageing and older age.

Negative attitudes to ageing remain the biggest barrier older people face as they try and remain active and involved in the community.

1999 being the United Nation's International Year of Older Persons has given us a chance to re-examine and celebrate the values of older people.

As a Government we are focusing on "promoting positive attitudes to ageing and older people" as our mission statement for the year.

Positive ageing has an important role to play in preparing for an ageing population.

Promoting positive attitudes to ageing, and recognising the contributions that older people make to families and communities, is vital if older people are to be truly valued and integrated into our society.

We need to see ageing as a normal part of life, and not something that separates one group of the population from the rest.

This United Nation's year contains some very important messages which we hope the community will pick up on.

In just three days Government will promote the second theme of the year; Valuing relationships between young and old.

Encouraging interaction between our oldest members and our children must be a priority if we are to bring the generations together.

As well as promoting positive ageing, this International Year has also given Government a chance to undertake some tangible work to advance the interests of older people.

We are currently funding a research project as part of the year's activities to identify the factors that allow older people to remain active and involved in contributing to society.

More than 100 older people have already been interviewed, and their experiences with ageing are providing crucial information.

Government expects to hear back in October the results of the research, and I'm confident the outcome of this research will be more relevant policy for older people.

Protection of Rights of Retirement Village Residents

In finishing today, I'd like to cover off two topics which I know are of interest to conference attendees.

Firstly, the issue of protecting the interests of retirement village residents.

I understand this will be discussed by your conference tomorrow.

The protection of the rights of residents who buy into retirement villages has become an issue of public concern in recent years.

Particularly given that the number and diversity of retirement village complexes in this country has markedly increased.

I don't have to detail for you the examples, in New Zealand and overseas, of older people who have had difficulties getting their money out of retirement complexes.

Complaints have also been aired about villages which do not provide the services which residents have been led to believe would be available.

This is an issue that affects your reputation as an industry, and I am sure your Association has its own thoughts on how best these concerns can be addressed.

However so far the issue of protecting resident's rights has been considered by the Securities Commission, the Task Force on Resident Funded Retirement Villages, and more recently, by the Law Commission.

You will be aware that in 1997 the Securities Commission invited the Law Commission to consider the law relating to retirement villages, as part of a wider project relating to the marketing of undivided interests in land.

As a result the Law Commission prepared a public discussion paper last year which outlined several proposals for changes to the legislation governing retirement villages.

Summed up briefly these are:

-the introduction of separate legislation which would include all retirement villages, whatever their title structure

-a proposal that all villages be supervised by prudential supervisors, approved by the Securities Commission

-a proposal that all villages prepare a disclosure document, including warnings to alert prospective residents to risks; and

-finally a proposal which would establish a tribunal which would negotiate all disputes referred to it between management and residents under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.

My Advisory Council for Senior Citizens has already prepared a submission to the Law Commission on the discussion document, supporting, in principle, the concept of specific legislation for the retirement village industry.

The Law Commission is now seeking feedback on several new issues that have been thrown up by the submission process, and Government expects to hear back from the Commission once these issues are resolved.

Prime Ministerial Task Force on Ageing

Finally I have been asked today to provide you with an update on outcomes following the Prime Ministerial Task Force on Positive Ageing.

The Task Force report to Government in July 1997 made a number of diverse recommendations.

Of the 34 action plans recommended by the Task Force, 27 were relevant to central government.

At the time of the Task Force's report, work on 15 of these action plans was already underway.

These include the Time-Use Survey, and work to develop greater national consistency in the delivery of health care services for older people.

This year we have seen further implementation of some of the recommendations.

Some have been incorporated into the national strategy to mark International Year of Older Persons, like the national communication campaign to build community understanding about positive ageing.

Others have been developed as stand alone services like the new funding for elder abuse and neglect prevention services, which has seen this valuable initiative extended to 22 locations across the country.

Another recommendation on which action is currently being taken, and of which I am strongly supportive, is the development and expansion of Christchurch's Confident Living Programme.

It is my hope that this Government will be able to extend the programme, using the expertise of the New Zealand Police and New Zealand Fire Service, to older people in communities throughout the rest of the country before too long.

Thank you for your time today.

I hope my thoughts have been of value, and I wish you all well in your conference programme over the next two days.