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Local Government’s role in promoting active ageing and wellbeing amongst residents (2022)

Age Discrimination

 LGPro – Local Government Professionals Victoria

Active Ageing & Wellbeing Awards Dinner

Thursday 31 March 2022

Keynote address: Local Government’s role in promoting active ageing and wellbeing amongst residents

Arts Centre Melbourne,

100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

(Check against delivery)

 


Introduction

  • I want to thank LGPro for inviting me to speak at tonight’s Active Ageing & Wellbeing Awards Dinner.
  • I acknowledge the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land from which I speak and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
  • I also wish to take this opportunity to congratulate all nominees for this year’s Active Ageing & Wellbeing Awards. I’m delighted to participate in this annual awards dinner with you and to hear about the wonderful programs being implemented by Local Government.
  • As Age Discrimination Commissioner, I have made it my priority during my term to address three major manifestations of age discrimination—elder abuse in the community, older women’s risk of homelessness and age discrimination and the workplace.
  • My role is to advocate that we challenge ageist stereotypes which lead to prejudice and, in turn, can result in age discrimination.  
  • Tonight I have been asked to talk about how Local Government can combat ageism.

Ageism in the community

  • Last year the World Health Organisation released their Global Report on Ageism[i]
  • I mention this because it contains one of the best definitions of ageism I have come across:  
    • "Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age."
  • Recently I launched a report, ‘What’s age got to do with it?’,[ii] exploring ageism across the Australian adult lifespan.
  • Based on a survey of 2,440 adult Australians across age groups and focus group discussions combined with a literature review, the Commission found that:
    • 90% of Australians believe ageism exists.
    • 83% believe that ageism is a problem.
    • 63% of Australians said they had experienced ageism in the last 5 years, including 64% of older people. 
  • I think this points to an issue of education – we need to have conversations about what ageism is, what it looks like and how it affects people, including people you know. 
  • The report also revealed a real sense of warmth and empathy between the generations and overall, participants felt that intergenerational conflict was largely a media creation, rather than something they felt themselves.
  • The report also found evidence that those who frequently had contact with people outside their own generation had a more positive view of other age groups. 

Countering ageism in the community

  • When it comes to countering ageism, we know that programs which foster positive intergenerational experiences and connections are the best way to reduce ageist attitudes. 
  • A Cornell University study published in the American Journal of Public Health[iii] found that older people who internalise ageist stereotypes are: 
    • More likely to experience physical illness and psychological distress. 
    • Lose an average of 7.5 years in lifespan compared to people with a more positive outlook on ageing. 
  • However, on a positive note, this study found that intergenerational programs, combined with education, are successful in countering ageism. 
  • There are many intergenerational projects fostering communication and relationship-building across generations to reduce stereotypes.  
  • For example, I was involved in a panel for the first season of the ABCTV program, ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’.
  • If you missed seasons one and two of this magical program, you can, catch it on ABC iView. It brought pre-schoolers and people living in residential aged care in Sydney’s northern suburbs together on a regular basis for activities that built intergenerational connections.  
  • This had positive effects on both the physical and mental wellbeing of the older participants, and the children who developed relationships with them and many keep in contact with each other.  
  • I also support a wonderful intergenerational art project, The Centenarian Portrait Project by Teenagers.i This initiative brings together 100 centenarians with 100 high school students who paint their portrait.  
  • Led by Rose Connors Dance, the project started in Victoria, then extended to NSWE and Queensland, with talks underway for it to expand to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. 
  • This creative project highlights the benefits of providing opportunities for intergenerational friendships and learning by breaking down age-based stereotypes held across generations.
  • I encourage Local Governments to consider how it can play a role in fostering intergeneration connections through its programs and activities, including by collaborating across sectors and building on existing best practice examples.

Supporting multigenerational workforces

  • Local Government can also counter ageism by supporting generational diversity in its own workforce.
  • There are currently five generations in the workplace for the first time in history. They bring a range of skills, experiences and expectations with them about workplaces and working with others.  
  • The Australian Human Resources Institute and Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2021 report, ‘Employing and Retaining Older Workers[iv]  found that: 
  • 70% of human resources professionals surveyed said that line managers in their workplace are not trained in ways to manage different generations. 
  • 44% of respondents said their organisation seldom or never offers unconscious bias training to their line managers – although this has decreased by 8% since the previous survey in 2018 (52%). 
  • Of the respondents who said their organisation does offer unconscious bias training, 47% said the training does not address age-related bias.  
  • We all have a role to play in addressing generational biases. 
  • For managers, this can mean ensuring that opportunities for training, career development and promotions are encouraged for team members irrespective of their age.
  • For those in leadership, management and human resources roles, this involves revising formal policies to ensure there is no unconscious bias and no age barriers. 
  • For both younger and older workers, this can mean ensuring there are no age barriers to joining your organisations, and no incentives for them to leave. 
  • I ask those of you participating today to consider what your Local Government is doing, and can do, to expand inclusion policies to support a multigenerational workplace.
  • Your workplace might also consider collecting age-based data – both for existing and new employees – so you know the state of play and are well placed to develop the right strategies for your circumstances.

Social isolation and elder abuse

  • On an individual level, some simple things each of us can do to foster intergenerational connection include: 

 

  • Keeping in touch with older people we know who are at risk of social isolation by phone or social media. 
  • Checking in on older people and those who are at particular risk in our community – family, friends and neighbour

 

  • Not only will these intergenerational connections help to reduce ageism, they will also play an important role in reducing social isolation, which is a key risk factor for elder abuse.
  • In many parts of Australia, elder abuse helpline calls have gone up during the pandemic period.

 

  • Between January 2021 to June 2021, calls to the National Elder Abuse phone line increased by 87% compared to the previous six months and January 2021 saw the highest number of calls received by the phone line since its inception.

 

  • In normal times, social isolation is already a risk factor for elder abuse. Now, whether due to physical distancing measures that have applied at various times or individual assessments about health risks related to the pandemic, older people are staying at home more and advocacy services are concerned that they are at increased risk of abuse due to:

 

  • being at home for extended periods with the perpetrator
  • not coming into contact with others, such as allied health professionals, hairdressers or pharmacists, who are in the position of being community responders to the red flags for elder abuse.

 

  • Older Australians who are isolated are also less likely to be aware of and have timely access to information about supports such as the National Elder Abuse Phone Line. 
  • Many advocacy services I have spoken to during the course of the pandemic also tell me that they are concerned, not by the number of calls coming in, but rather by the number of people potentially unable to call or walk into an office to get help.
  • This is why it is important for anyone who comes into contact with older people to equip themselves with knowledge about elder abuse and where to get help and support.
  • To assist with this, the Commission has developed elder abuse bookmarks and posters to raise awareness of elder abuse and the national elder abuse phone line.
  • The bookmark concept was initially developed by ACT Legal Aid and we adapted it with their permission.
  • The bookmark promotes the National Elder Abuse Phone Line 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) and contains a few questions to prompt older people to consider whether they, or someone they know, may be experiencing elder abuse.
  • To date the materials have reached older people via various channels including pharmacies, GPs, seniors groups and they have been distributed with Seniors Cards.
  • The materials are currently available in eleven languages, including English.
  • I would be delighted if you would consider distributing these bookmarks via your Local Government programs – especially any programs or activities that are able to reach older people in their homes or local communities.
  • If you would like to include information about these materials and the National Elder Abuse phone line in your Local Government newsletters please feel free to contact my office for sample wording and thumbnails.

Granny Flats and CGT

  • I also want to mention a recent tax amendment, which came into effect last year.
  • The amendment provides a Capital Gains Tax exemption for granny flat arrangements where there is a formal written agreement.
  • Previously, families may have opted for informal arrangements to avoid CGT, which left older people unprotected and at greater risk of financial abuse and even homelessness.
  • This is a small change that has mostly gone under the radar, but it is a very important change which all older Australians and professionals, including Local Government officials involved in granny flat procedures and community education, need to know about.

Older women at risk of homelessness

  • I want to turn now to the issue of older women at risk of homelessness.
  • In 2013, my local council, Boroondara City Council, in conjunction with Monash University, published a research paper, Local Government Research into A Hidden Issue.[v] 
  • Based on local research during 2011-2012, the paper explored the experiences and issues that put single, older women (55 years and over) at risk of homelessness.
  • This shone a light on a hidden cohort of older women who have led conventional lives, yet find themselves at risk of homelessness as they approach or enter retirement.
  • In Australia, the number of older homeless women increased by over 30% between 2011 and 2016.
  • We have an ageing population, a high cost of housing and a significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes.
  • Older women often experience homelessness for the first time in later life, after leading conventional lives, working and raising families.
  • In 2019, I launched a paper, Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness: Background Paper.[vi]
  • This paper explores the risk factors behind older women’s risk of homelessness. These include:
    • being single
    • renting
    • living alone
    • experiencing economic disadvantage
    • experiencing family and domestic violence
    • having a lack of family support
    • loss of a partner or relationship breakdown
    • personal factors, such as a mental health issue, a history of abuse and having a lower level of education
    • experiencing a crisis, such as job loss, illness or eviction.
  • For some women, a single crisis or change in circumstances can result in homelessness with little or no warning.
  • Whereas for other women, a combination of factors built up over many years, such as financial insecurity, the high cost of housing, or relationship breakdown, may lead them to slip down the housing ladder over time.
  • Innovative solutions are needed to prevent older women becoming homeless—without these, this problem will only continue to increase.
  • The plethora of solutions must take into account the range of circumstances of the women in question—from their assets, income and capacity to work, and their age, through to their housing requirements and preferences.
  • The aim must be to enhance women’s housing and economic security across the remainder of their working lives and through retirement.
  • While social and community housing are a part of the answer, there is also a place for exploring potential solutions to reduce older women’s risk of homelessness with a focus on preventative and innovative approaches that broaden the scope of affordable housing solutions beyond these.
  • Shared equity is one potential model I have been discussing with a range of stakeholders.
  • Any older women who choose to participate in a scalable shared equity model, rather than risk running down their assets, will not only gain housing security at the individual level, but also have the added broader community benefit of reducing the significant pressure on social and community housing.
  • The aim would be for them to own sufficient equity in their home by the time they reach pension age that they can afford rent on the other portion they do not own and the other costs associated with the portion they own.
  • Developing practical solutions requires engagement across sectors—from all levels of government, including Local Government, as well as the property, finance, business, and not-for-profit sectors.
  • I would like to encourage those of you participating today to consider ideas for the role that Local Government could play in exploring innovative solutions to this problem.
  • That’s the challenge I present to you today.

Conclusion

  • I want to conclude by thanking those of you participating today for your interest in this area of active ageing and welling —you are well placed to be change makers.
  • I look forward to the future steps Local Government will take to promote more age inclusive communities, including strategies to support older women at risk of homelessness, combat social isolation which is a risk factor for elder abuse, and foster intergenerational relationships in the community and in the workplace.
  • As I say over and over again, the culture you set is the culture you will inherit.
     
  • Thank you.

[i] World Health Organization, Global report on ageism, 18 March 2021. At: https://www.who.int/teams/social-determinants-of-health/demographic-change-and-healthy-ageing/combatting-ageism/global-report-on-ageism (viewed 20 March 2021)

[ii] Australian Human Rights Commission, What’s age got to do with it? At: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/whats-age-got-do-it-2021 

[iii] American Journal of Public Health, David Burness PhD, Chrisine Sheppard MSW, Charles R. Henderson Jr Ma et al, Interventions to reduce Ageism Against Older Adults: A Systematic Review and meta-Analysis, 27 March 2019. At: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305123.  

[iv] Australian Human Rights Commission/Australian Human Resources Institute, Employing and Retaining Older Workers (2021). At: https://www.ahri.com.au/media/c4nj0cnk/ahri_employingolderworkers_april_2021.pdf

[v] University of Technology, Sydney, Proceedings of the 3rd National Local Government Researchers’ Forum, Local Government Research Into a ‘Hidden’ Issue. At: https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/conferences/index.php/acelg/PNLGRF/paper/viewFile/501/98

(viewed 15 July 2020).

[vi] Australian Human Rights Commission, Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness: Background paper. At: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/older-womens-risk-homelessness-background-paper-2019 (viewed 15 July 2020).

Commission logo

Dr Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner

Area:
Age Discrimination