The Treasurer Scott Morrison has encouraged Australians to remain “aspirational” as they grow older, but said the risks posed by an ageing population must be carefully managed.
“Aspiration has no age limit,” Mr Morrison said at the Criterion Conference Aged Care Reform After the 2018 Federal Budget.
Aspiration “doesn’t grind to a halt when we turn 65”, he said.
Mr Morrison said older Australians can continue to learn skills, seek new experiences, be independent, and still remain safe. They can be engaged, informed, and empowered.
The government’s More Choices for a Longer Life package aims to help older Australians remain healthy and active into their later years, he said.
“People are living longer and healthier – it’s good news,” he said.
More older Australians than ever are employed in the workforce, Mr Morrison said.
“Australians are choosing to work for longer.”
Australia’s participation rate is now just below 65.7%, slightly below its peak, in large part due to the contribution of older Australians. Our participation rate for older Australians has doubled since the early 2000s. One third of jobs growth in the year to February 2018 was from Australians over the age of 55, Mr Morrison said.
Though Australia’s population is ageing, we are actually younger than our peers, in large part due to our immigration program which is the “envy of other economies,” Mr Morrision said.
Many people tend to refer to an ageing population as an “economic curse”, or a drag on economic growth and productivity, but Mr Morrison said he sees it as an “opportunity”.
But the Treasurer cautioned that economic growth must remain strong in Australia in order for the government to deliver its Aged Care budget package.
“The Budget is a plan for the economy – from that all else flows,” he said. “Unless you have a strong economy, no plans can be relied upon.”
“There are risks – but if prepared, it can be an opportunity,” he said.
He said the government has made adjustments that mean older people can work for longer, but not jeopardise their pension. He said pensioners can earn $23,000 before losing any of their pension.
The pension loans scheme means older Australians can unlock some of the equity in their home without having their pension compromised.
In the budget, the government allocated $1.6 billion over four years to fund 14,000 additional home care packages.
But the “regulatory framework must meet the challenge”, Mr Morrison said.
Unannounced audits will ensure that safety and quality of care standards are met at all times, not just when being assessed, he said.
Questions from the audience revealed the real life impact of the greater number of home care packages.
One questioner said that with more people staying at home for longer, when people do move to residential aged care, they tend to have more acute needs, and are staying for shorter periods, generating higher turnover of residents. This combination is putting pressure on residential aged care facility operations.
A volunteer who manages a dementia support group, who introduced herself as Val, said greater emphasis on home care is also increasing demand for respite care. The shortage of respite care beds available is a problem that needs to be addressed.
The government is focusing on Australia’s elderly population more than ever before. The 2018 Budget contained significant measured to support the elderly, but implementation must be managed carefully.