We deserve our choice of retirement.
The majority of older Australians will tell you they want to see out their retirements in their own homes.
I saw the benefits of this with my parents, who lived their last years at home. This brought them great joy and comfort, however it was only possible because my sister gave up nursing and spent a decade caring for our parents.
Ageing in one’s home or community, or ageing in place as it’s sometimes called, makes sense.
People who stay in their homes often enjoy more healthy and active years and better physical, mental and social health. It also makes financial sense.
The Productivity Commission investigated this issue in 2015 and recommended policy changes to help older people stay in their own homes.
“Since home care is considerably cheaper than residential aged care, it is not only what most people want but also potentially more fiscally sustainable for Government,” Commissioner Karen Chester said.
Five years on there has been progress towards helping people age in place, but barriers still remain.
Many older Australians need some help to live independently, but there is a shortage of support.
The latest figures show that more than 100,000 Australians are on the waiting list for an approved homecare package. This backlog must be addressed. Nobody wins when people are forced into expensive residential care because of a lack of home support.
Economic barriers also need attention. Every day there’s an army of family and loved ones helping older Australians stay safe, healthy and happy in their homes. The Carer Payment is too low and carers like my sister also shoulder hidden costs including loss of superannuation and years of lost career progression.
The Age Pension is also too low and must be raised to better reflect the cost of living. Regrettable changes to the pension assets test have moved the goalposts in retirement and left older Australians draining their savings too quickly.
Ageism remains an issue. It shows up in the NDIS which is not open to join after age 65. Workplaces too are often ageist, and older Australians frequently struggle to secure a job.
There should be greater financial incentive for employers to hire older people, whose skills and contribution should be better acknowledged.
Older Australians deserve a fair go.
It is crucial to look after older Australians to ensure they can live with independence and dignity at home or in the facility of their choice.
The ageing population brings with it the challenge of how to ensure that people are looked after in their retirement. However, we are a rich and clever country, and we have the money and the ability to meet that challenge. Hopefully the Royal Commission into residential aged care will help clean up the sector.
A rare positive of the coronavirus is that it has shown that Australia really values its older people and will go to great lengths to protect them. We’ve been reminded how much we cherish our parents and grandparents.
It’s time to extend this care to breaking down the barriers that remain between older Australians and the retirement they choose.