Be part of this research project

By simply spending 30 minutes of your time answering these questions about yourself, you can make a contribution to research about ageing and Australian women.

What is AgeHAPPY?

The Healthy Ageing Project Population Youth-senior (AgeHAPPY) is an online heath survey for Australians. The Healthy Ageing Project (HAP) mission is to improve the understanding of health across a lifespan to promote healthy ageing and prevent disease.

This round of the survey commenced in 2020. It started with a pilot study called HAP. Data on self-reported health, lifestyle, mood, and vascular risk factors is being collected from male and female participants aged 18 years and over. AgeHAPPY is a continuation of the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP).

WHAP commenced in 1990 as a study examining the health of Australian women from midlife (then aged 45-55 years) before the menopausal transition and into ageing. The study has almost 30 years of data on mood, dietary intake, risky behaviours, physical activity and social connectedness among other factors. WHAP continues to follow up these women, who are now all aged over 70 years. The children of the original participants have now joined the study as of 2021 commencing the WHAP generations study.

AgeHAPPY is a study into the lifelong effects of lifestyle and habits on health and the progression of ageing. Everyone over 18 years of age can participate in the online health questionnaire. This research ultimately contributes to promoting healthy ageing in Australia and to improve the wellbeing of all Australians.

Chronic disease is the largest cause of death and disability in Australian society and throughout the western world. The information collected will enable greater understanding of the impact of social and behavioural factors on health and influence policies toward better prevention and early detection of health issues, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Most studies on “ageing” are usually limited to the elderly. HAP defines ageing as a phenomenon that occurs continuously throughout all stages of life – and presents its health challenges at all ages. Many studies show that indicators for chronic disease occur years before onset.

Through this online health survey, HAP can collect valuable demographic, clinical, behavioural and lifestyle data which allows them to analyse the impact of factors on health and ageing at every age.

Get involved in the AgeHAPPY study

The first section of the study is an online questionnaire covering areas such as demographic information, general health history, family health history, mood, quality of life, physical activity, sleep, diet, alcohol intake, smoking, physical function, social relationships, and negative life events.

The second section is a cognitive component which tests thinking skills, a bit like a brain game. A participant will be invited to complete the online cognitive testing from the Healthy Brain Initiative – Brain Health Registry (HBI-BHR). The Brain Health Registry is a web-based study that enables researchers to efficiently identify, assess and monitor the brain changes associated with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and brain ageing more efficiently.

In 12 months’ time, HAP will contact you to complete a follow-up online questionnaire.

To participate, please follow the link:
https://medicine.unimelb.edu.au/research-groups/medicine-and-radiology-research/royal-melbourne-hospital/healthy-ageing-program/healthy-ageing-project

COVID-19 impacts during 2020

Grandparents reported feeling disconnected and isolated from their children and grandchildren during the COVID restrictions imposed during 2020.

In two surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies during each half of 2020, three out of 10 grandparents said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they provided childcare to their grandchildren at least weekly. Of those grandparents, 14% of respondents with grandchildren aged under 13 years provided child care daily or several times a week, another 16% provided child care about once a week and around half provided care at least once per month.

Grandparent care and care for grandparents were most impacted during the pandemic, with respondents reporting that for many families, grandparents did not provide the usual care to their grandchildren for some months during the pandemic. Care for grandchildren ceased because of restrictions imposed on visiting family members or because parents increased their work from home.

Many grandparents reported feeling disconnected from their family and missing out on family traditions during the lockdown period. While some grandparents were able to access technological solutions to connect with family, others found the technology frustrating.

There were 7,306 respondents in the first survey of whom 6,435 completed all survey questions. In the second survey, 4,866 participants responded, of which 3,627 completed all survey questions. Over 80% were female respondents, tertiary-educated, ranging in age from over 18 years to 60+ years who lived either in a capital city, a major regional city or regional area.

Impacts on caring for others

In addition to generalised fears as to how the virus might affect the physical and mental health of family members, the pandemic forced changes to the availability of in-home support services. Caring hours for family members increased significantly over the year for 70% of respondents, nearly half of the respondents saying they spent over 30 hours per week in relation to child care and home schooling, while about 20% of respondents reported spending over 60 hours per week on caring activities which included caring for a parent or a partner.

Respondents also referred to giving assistance to non-household members which could include friends or work colleagues. This could include giving emotional assistance, or providing help with shopping, transport, house or garden maintenance and sometimes financial help.

Community volunteering was also impacted by the pandemic during 2020 in that in many volunteer-reliant charities, older volunteers were restricted in the types of volunteer work they could do and, at the same time, demand for services from charities increased due to the impact of COVID on employment and income.

Community volunteers were more likely to be older people. Survey results showed that over a quarter (27%) of respondents or their partners had engaged in some form of voluntary work in the past year, including half of those aged 70-79, 36% of those living alone, and 40% of those living in remote areas.

Of those who volunteered at some time during 2020, almost two in three (62%) continued to volunteer throughout the year, 20% volunteered before COVID but had yet to return to volunteering, 6% started volunteering after COVID, 4% stopped volunteering during COVID but have returned to volunteering, and 4% volunteered only during COVID. (The remaining 5% is other combinations.)

Report no. 1: Connection to family, friends and community, Families in Australia Survey, May 2021, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/connection-family-friends-community

Poetry inspired by Flourish

A collaboration of sewing, photography and poetry.

Winner, Flying Arts Alliance, Qld, 2020ce
Flourish, cyanotype photograms on cotton with thread.
104cm x104cm (framed with Perspex)
Leanne Vincent, 2020.
A Lineage of Ecologies

Each sea blue petal, gathered
in honour of Detritus, was slow
stitch’d into this teeming quilt,
this bowerbird mandala,
this cathedral rose window
in the navy night,
this rock pool in kaleidoscope.
And now the Seaweeds, from
Photographs of British Algae
to whom Flourish is indebted,
wave from their 19th century pages
in a lineage of ecologies.

-Sally Denshire Continue reading “Poetry inspired by Flourish”

Author talk at Dennis Johnson Library Stanhope Gardens

Come along to join in the retirement conversation on

Join Alice and have a retirement conversation.
Saturday, 24 October 2020 at 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm.
At the Dennis Johnson Library, Cnr Stanhope Parkway & Sentry Drive, Stanhope Gardens, NSW 2768

Women experience retirement differently to men. Women generally live longer, have less money and volunteer more than their male counterparts. A practicing lawyer for over 30 years, Alice Mantel encourages making better decisions, giving advice on topics such as:

Inspiring women to make the most of their retirement opportunities, Every Woman’s Guide to Retirement encourages an active, connected lifestyle, staying healthy, lifelong learning, de-cluttering, and even online dating to make the most of this time.

How easy is it being green?

You don’t have to be a “greenie” to be an environmentally-friendly person. We know that our governments need to do a lot more, but personal actions count too. You can actually make small changes in yourself and in your household. Making your own contribution to reducing your carbon footprint and reducing your plastic usage is one of many practical steps that you can take to having a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. Here are a few more ideas:

Solar panels – if you own your own house, the emissions and cost benefits stand out. Installation is so reasonable with government rebates available that you can recover your costs within three years because your power bills will be so reduced. You can sell any excess energy back to the grid.

Power bills – replace your old light bulbs with LED globes – cheaper and longer-lasting than conventional globes in the long-term.

Recycle – you can recycle so much in your daily life. You probably already separate your household waste into recyclables and greens but that is not all. Start collecting your old batteries, watches, printers, cables – you will be surprised at how much electronic gear you have.

Recycle clothes – each year, Australians send around $500m worth of clothing to the tip. You can reduce how much goes into landfill by sorting through your clothes before you donate. There is a simple test – would you give this item to a mate? If the answer is no, then you should be thinking about dropping those items to a textile recycling bin, like those managed by Planet Ark. If you just don’t like the clothes, or they don’t fit but are in good condition, donate them to the many charity bins that you find around the place.

Recycle water – having shorter showers just requires a little forethought. You can also set up a system to re-use the grey water from your shower or your washing machine, or use the runoff from your gutters to water your garden.
Compost – only veggies go into your compost bin to keep it nice and healthy. Cheaper and easier than any bought fertiliser and growing your own herbs and veggies is cheap and personally rewarding.

Transport – use public transport whenever you can to reduce your carbon emissions. (You will be healthier too because you will be walking more as well!) With electric vehicles becoming cheaper, think about making the switch when you’re thinking about replacing your car. If you drive a lot and have solar panels on your roof, you will save thousands by recharging at home.

Refuse and re-use plastic bags – once you get organised, you can really reduce the amount of plastic bags you collect from supermarkets. Most supermarkets have plastic recycling bins as well these days, but better to not take them in the first place.

Invest wisely – insist that your superannuation fund only invests in ethical products on your behalf. If you invest in shares, only choose ethical products (don’t believe the myth that you will have to accept a lower return – the research says the opposite). Then find a bank that doesn’t lend money to fossil fuel projects; you will probably save money on bank fees at the same time.

Vote thoughtfully – before you vote for the political tribe that normally gets your support, have a closer look at the climate, energy and environmental policies of some of the main parties, behind the misleading rhetoric. The science says that we have stop using coal and gas as fast as we can, with no new fossil-fuel projects. Don’t believe anybody who says we can’t afford it – that’s just not true.

Recycle your legacy – choose a headstone for your burial site that is made from your own recycled clothes and belongings. Contact http://www.smart.unsw.edu.au/smart-recycling. Or you can even recycle an old headstone that is no longer being used.

It’s not too hard being green – even a small change will make a difference.

The Economic Impacts of Ageism

Emma Dawson, Executive Director, Per Capita made this speech to the COTA Australia National Policy Forum at the National Press Club, Canberra on 13 June 2019. She makes some an excellent points about the effects of ageism on older people finding and retaining work and the growing number of older women in poverty.

Her speech follows:
I begin by acknowledging that we meet today on the land of the Ngunnawal people, and pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging. This is, and always will be, Aboriginal land, land which was never ceded.

Thank you to COTA and the Benevolent Society for inviting me to speak to you today about the economic impacts of ageism. Per Capita has long standing and valued relationships with both of you, of course, and we, like all Australians, greatly value the work you do to advocate for older people and improve the lives of all our citizens.

It’s a particular privilege for me to be a member of the steering committee for the “Every Age Counts” campaign, which is doing such important work combatting ageism in Australia. As has often been noted, Ageism seems to be the last remaining socially accepted form of prejudice, so the work being done by Kirsty, Marlene, Kerry, Sue and the team, and the leadership of Robert Tickner, is so important.

And Ageism is more than insulting; like all forms of entrenched and widespread prejudice, it has real and measurable effects on people’s wellbeing – on their mental and physical health, their social connectedness and their economic security.

The economic impact of Ageism may be the least well understood of these effects, but in fact it influences all the other outcomes of the prejudice that older people experience in our society.

That is, it is in large part Ageism in our economic systems that leads to the negative health and social experiences of older people in Australia.

The root of the problem can be found in the dominant narrative in our political and social discourse that frames ageing as almost entirely a negative experience.

Western culture is one that celebrates youth. Ageing is seen as a decline, with little to recommend it. Of course, other cultures – not least that of our First Nations people – are much better at valuing and respecting elders, but white, European culture has almost completely lost the ability to recognise the positive aspects of ageing.

It’s rare for us to hear stories in the national media or public debate about the benefits of ageing – the getting of wisdom, the accumulation of experience, the growth of resilience.

The sense of contentedness that comes with raising a family or ticking off career goals. The leaving behind of the race to prove oneself to people who really don’t matter.

These are all things that people gain as they age, and – with the exception of a few enlightened social commentators – we don’t hear much about these things at all.

Instead, we hear about the things people LOSE as they age: their looks; their agility; their memories; their independence; their productivity.

The fact is, we live in a political system that lauds economic productivity as the most important contribution humans can make to society.

So when a group of people is repeatedly dismissed as declining in productivity by virtue of the fact that they are getting older, we end up with a pervasive narrative that older people are an economic burden on the rest of us.

This infiltrates economic and social policy making. The entrenched assumption that older people take much more from our economy and our society than they give to it leads to the creation of policies and the entrenchment of social attitudes that reinforce the barriers to social and economic participation.

That is, the assumption that older people are a burden on society creates an economic system in which older people are, in many interrelated ways, forced into BEING a burden – prevented by systematic prejudices from contributing to their full capacity, from fully exercising their right to live a self-determined, self-reliant life – and from having the contributions they do make recognised and valued as they should be.

But let me step back and give you some statistics.

Every five years, the Department of Treasury and Finance releases the Intergenerational Report – that in itself shows that we frame ageing and intergenerational relationships through an economic lens.

With another report due next year, the 2015 report provides the most up-to-date data available for the projected demographic changes of the next forty years – out to 2055.

The report tells us that Australians will live longer and continue to have one of the longest life expectancies in the world.

There are projected to be around 40,000 people aged over 100. This is a dramatic increase, well over three hundred times the 122 Australians who marked their centenary in 1974.

There will be more than double the number of Australians aged over 65 than there are today, and nearly two million Australians, or 4.9 per cent of the population, will be aged 85 and over – I hope to be one of them!

This all sounds like very good news. But the report is focused on the economic impacts of this demographic change for Australia’s federal budget, and sounds a warning that, on current policy settings, we face, quote, “an unequivocal deterioration in fiscal sustainability”.

In other words, this many older people will send Australia broke unless we change our policy settings to adapt to an ageing population.

A big part of this challenge will be reframing how we view ageing, and removing Ageism and the concept of older people as a burden from the policy process and our economic systems.

So let’s take an honest look at the cost and contribution of older people to Australia’s society and economy.

It’s true that, at just over 44 billion dollars annually, the age pension is the largest social security spending measure on the government’s books.

Yes, it’s a lot of money.

But consider this. The Australian Institute of Family Studies estimated the value of unpaid caring and other voluntary work by people aged over 65 at around 39 billion dollars each year – and those figures are 15 years old. The figure is likely to be significantly higher today.

There isn’t nearly enough analysis of the value of unpaid work done in our society, but on those 15 year old figures alone, and assuming the likely increase in the years since, we can see that the cost of the age pension is easily offset by the unpaid work older people contribute to our economy.

Along with women, who undertake the vast majority of unpaid care work throughout their lives, older people, men included, make a disproportionate contribution to our society and economy by caring for grandchildren, caring for spouses and other relatives, and volunteering in their communities.

Of course, the costs of age pensions and aged care services are likely to rise in line with a greater proportion of people aged over 65, and especially over 85, in future.

Under current policy settings, Australian Government expenditure on Age and Service pensions is projected to rise as a per cent of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, from 2.9 per cent in 2015 to 3.6 per cent in 2055 – that’s 165 billion dollars annually in today’s dollars.

But the Intergenerational Report also notes that, in the near future, not only will Australians live longer, but improvements in health mean they are more likely to remain active for longer.

So the overwhelming likelihood is that the voluntary contribution of older people will increase at least in line with, but probably in excess of, the costs of caring for older people.

I would note here that the government has committed to reintroducing the Time Use Survey from next year, and this will give us a much more accurate picture of the economic contribution made by older, so-called retired people.

This should furnish economists and policy makers with the data to help us to counter the negative narrative that older people are an economic burden on society, and quantify their contributions.

Per Capita will be undertaking economic modelling and policy work in this area through our Centre for Applied Policy In Positive Ageing which, like the Every Age Counts Campaign, is generously supported by the Wicking Trust.

Volunteering, and providing unpaid care, is one field of endeavour in which older people are less likely to encounter barriers based on ageism: our society depends on their unpaid work, so their contribution is rarely, if ever, refused.

When it comes to paid work, however, it’s a very different story – as we have heard this morning.

The retirement age is between 65 and 67 years old, but for many people, that’s no longer the age at which they stop working, but rather the age at which they can access the pension or their superannuation, or both.

65 simply isn’t what it used to be. Of course, not all workers can continue working many years beyond the traditional retirement age – those engaged in physical labour, like nurses, construction workers, agricultural workers and workers in the resource sector find their ability to continue in their jobs is often limited by injury or wear and tear.

But many more people remain physically active, and mentally acute, well into older age than was true even a generation ago.

Our retirement age, and the underpinnings of our retirement income system, were set a century ago. The fact is, today, many older people want to keep working, but are shut out of the labour market due to ageism in the workforce.

A 2017 report by the University of South Australia found that more than a third of workers aged over 50 had experienced age discrimination in the workforce, and confirmed a strong perception across society that older workers were not suitable for employment.

This followed the 2016 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, under then age discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan, that Australia is experiencing a significant rise in long term mature-age unemployment.

The AHRC report found that the average length of time spent looking for work for unemployed people aged over 55 was 68 weeks.

That’s more than twice the length of time out of the workforce for those aged 15 – 24.

So while youth unemployment is comparably high in Australia, it tends to be a temporary experience.

For older workers thrown out of work, it can be permanent, or mean that so long is spent looking for a job that savings and assets built up over a lifetime are significantly depleted.

Particularly for women, who often take time out of the paid workforce to care for children and other relatives, getting back into work can prove almost impossible. ACOSS estimates that 49% of people living on Newstart are women aged over 45. Many of them are single mothers.

I would remind you all that the rate of Newstart is just under $40 a day.

This is a significant factor contributing to the reprehensible statistic that women over 55 are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia – a fact I will repeat in every speech I give on economic insecurity until it is no longer true.

Yet many older people want to work well beyond the age of 65 – and, often, they have to.

A report published just yesterday in The Conversation showed that, based on microdata from the Bureau of Statistics survey of income and housing, the number of older Australian’s carrying mortgage debt into retirement is increasing at an alarming rate.

For home owners aged 55 to 64 years, the proportion owing money on mortgages has more than tripled in just 15 years – from 14 per cent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2015.

In the same age bracket, the mortgage debt-to-income ratio has almost doubled in the same period, from 72% to 132%.

This is an economic time bomb for Australia’s retirement incomes system. The policy settings that underpin retirement incomes in Australia are predicated on the assumption that people own their houses outright.

Per Capita’s 2016 research, with the Benevolent Society and the Longevity Hub, into the Adequacy of the Age Pension, found that the group most likely to live in poverty was comprised of single pensioners who rented in the private market.

There are many intersecting reasons why people are reaching retirement age while still owing money on their homes. Most obviously is the significant and unsustainable increase in house prices over the last two decades. This means not only that people are borrowing more to buy a home, but that they must save much longer for a deposit, delaying their entry into the housing market.

To leave the data for a moment and bring a personal perspective into this – I am one of those people. I met my partner when I was 39. I had a mortgage on a one bedroom apartment but he was renting. We married within a year, and bought our current, two-bedroom apartment, and just under two years later, we had our child.

When we reach 65, we’ll still have four years to go on that mortgage. Our child will be 24 – so on current projections on the age at which middle-class kids move out of home, she’ll still be with us for up to a decade!

Fortunately, I have a much better superannuation balance than most women my age – a function of having worked in universities, where the contribution rate is 15%, and of working full time right through my thirties. So I’ll probably be able to pay the mortgage off with super.

But many older people, particularly in the next five to ten years, won’t have that option. They haven’t had compulsory super all their working lives, as I have, and if, like me, they are supporting kids at home well into their fifties, and working for an average or median wage, their ability to “salary sacrifice” into their super, or make extra repayments on their mortgage, is very limited.

So the ageism that keeps these older workers unemployed for long periods of time, particularly as traditional industries are disrupted by automation and skills sets are made obsolete by changing technologies, has real economic implications for their financial security in retirement.

It’s impossible to pay off a mortgage on the age pension.

Many will have no choice but to sell their homes and downsize into unsuitable accommodation, often outside of the communities in which they live happily.

Recent research we have undertaken at Per Capita revealed that, contrary to popular understanding, older people aren’t unreasonably insistent on staying in the family home as they age. It’s not the actual house they are attached to, but their local community – but there is a dearth of appropriate housing for people to “right-size” into within those local communities.

In the recent election campaign, we heard a lot about relatively wealthy retirees potentially losing income from tax reform policies being proposed by the opposition.

While the facts of voting patterns seem to indicate that those people who were actually going to be affected by Labor’s proposal to remove franking credit rebates for non-taxpayers actually swung towards Labor – presumably because they could afford to – the fear of losing retirement incomes seems to have been a real factor in how some people voted at that election.

This points to the helplessness many older people feel in our society when it comes to having control over their incomes and financial security.

Because the fact is that too many older working people know they won’t get another job if they lose theirs, and this is almost entirely due to ageism and the belief that older workers can’t adapt to changing workplaces.

Following the release of the Deloitte report into employment yesterday, Tim Colebatch noted on social media that half of the growth in the full-time workforce since the Global Financial Crisis has been in people aged over 50. This sounds like a good thing, but too many of these older workers are stuck in jobs with often poor conditions and wages because they are too scared to move – they know if they lose their job because their boss finds out they are looking elsewhere, they won’t get another one. Similarly, they are too frightened to ask for a pay rise in case they are let go for a younger, cheaper option. The fear of unemployment due to ageism is reducing their bargaining power. This is one of the causes of low wage growth in our economy

In fact, repeated studies, both here and overseas, have shown that older workers are more productive (they are less likely to spend time at work on Facebook!), more reliable, less likely to leave their jobs every two to five years, and bring experience and complex problem solving abilities to the workforce that have taken years to develop.

The economic benefits of hiring or retaining older workers have been quantified and demonstrated again and again, so it can only be an entrenched and unfounded prejudice that prevents employers from valuing them as they should.

So what are the economic policy shifts we need to enact to overcome the economic impacts of ageism and our inability to value the contribution of older people to society?

Firstly, we need to get the so-called “problem” in perspective. Yes, Australia’s society is ageing – societies in all developed, wealthy nations are.

But we are not ageing as rapidly as some others – Japan, for example, is facing a real crisis with more than a third of its population estimated to be over the age of 65 by 2050. This will place an impossible taxation burden on people of working age.

Japan has now announced that it will revise its immigration policies to address this – and we know that works, because it is immigration that is keeping Australia’s economy growing and keeping our population relatively young.

Secondly, we need to rethink the concept of being “old”. While certain factors of biology are inescapable – women’s fertility, for example, remains subject to the same age limits as it has for millennia – the fact is that people are able to live active lives into much older age than they were in my grandparents’ day.

The shift to a healthier, older society is one of the biggest demographic changes in our history, yet we don’t have a holistic approach to dealing with it.

Some years ago, Per Capita published a Blueprint for an Ageing Australia – we need to revisit that work and develop a whole-of-government architecture to addressing the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities of an ageing population.

To turn to some specific policy solutions, we need to rethink our housing market. We need better options for housing for people as they age. As I mentioned earlier, older people would like to “down size” from the four-bedroom family home, but there aren’t enough “right-size” properties in their local communities, where they have friends, children and grandchildren and social networks.

We need more medium-density development in our established suburbs, and planning laws need to change to encourage this. It shouldn’t be about developers squeezing the most profit out of a quarter-acre block by cramming in three double-story townhouses with no gardens, when what people need are single-level, two and three bedroom homes with small, manageable gardens.

And we need to make it less expensive for people to leave the family home. Stamp duty is a huge barrier – state governments could consider waiving or discounting it for people over 70 – or better still, eliminating stamp duty altogether and moving gradually to a land tax, as is being done here in the ACT.

We also need to rethink our working structures. Older people should be able to transition out of full time work gradually, without losing access to age-related pensions and benefits, so that they are able to remain productive as long as they want to, need to or are able to.

Governments can do more to incentivise employers to retain older workers. While subsidised employment schemes often result in employers hiring older workers only for as long as the subsidies last, and are therefore inefficient, measures such as discounted payroll tax and other incentives should be considered to encourage employers to retain experienced older workers in favour of letting them go for younger workers on cheaper rates.

There is a role for business here too. Business should adopt “blind recruitment” policies, where CVs are submitted without gender, names (which often signal ethnicity) or ages. Studies have shown this practice significantly diversifies the candidates selected for interview.

And our tax and transfer system needs a thorough overhaul. It was good to hear, in the wake of the election campaign, the treasurer Josh Frydenberg indicate a willingness to consider implementing the recommendation of the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of retirement incomes. It is sorely needed.

The danger, following the scare campaigns around so-called “death taxes” and the mispresentation of Labor’s dividend imputation policy as a retiree tax, is that any review launched by the government won’t adequately consider all the possible options to improve people’s economic security in older age.

We must advocate for a genuinely broad-ranging review, one that looks urgently at the rate of Newstart, on which too many people are trapped between their fifties and the pension access age of 65. Our employment services should recognise the reality that people in this situation are far less likely than younger job seekers to find work, and treat them accordingly. Older people out of work often fear applying for short term or casual employment, because their benefits are cut, or they are removed from the system, only to have to re-engage from the start again at the end of a short-term contract, meaning they go through waiting periods with no income, or may incur the dreaded “robodebt”.

Employment Services in this country need a complete overhaul, and one important part is to introduce new requirements for older job seekers – allowing them to earn occasional income without reducing their benefits, for example. We are moving in the wrong direction on this – last year, the number of volunteer hours older job seekers could claim as recognised activity for income support payments was reduced. This is entirely the wrong approach.

Further, the settings of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which should be pegged to the cost of housing; and we must reconsider the overly generous tax concessions on superannuation that disproportionately benefit the wealthy; and yes, even at dividend imputation, or franking credits.

The fact is, the cost of giving cash to people who don’t pay income tax in the form of franking credit rebates costs the federal budget more than $6 billion a year, and is predicted to rise to $11 billion over the next few years. That’s will bring it to the same cost as Newstart.

One of the reasons I kept hearing for people’s fear of that particularly controversial policy was that older people need to live off the income from their superannuation rather than draw down on the balance of their savings because they are fearful of needing the lump sum to pay for entry to an aged care home or significant health care needs in their older age.

This is a legitimate fear – once you are no longer earning, the need to protect the money you have becomes more acute.

But what if we were to invest the billions of dollars spent on giving people cash refunds into aged home care packages?

The waiting list for this much-preferred option of aged care is now around 18 months, and it’s widely acknowledged that the program is woefully underfunded and cannot keep up with demand. If we were to invest those billions of dollars currently going as gifts to wealthy non-taxpayers into guaranteed home care packages for people when they become frail, I imagine that would give many older people peace of mind and allow them to spend more of their retirement savings when they are well enough to enjoy them.

A genuine review of retirement incomes would look at the best way to spend our common wealth on giving older people real choices – the choice to continue working as long as they would like to; the choice of suitable housing in the communities they want to live in; the choice to age in place at home with appropriate care; the choice to set aside some of our collective superannuation wealth into a levy to provide discrete funding for our aged care system; and the choice to contribute to their communities and their families and have that contribution valued by the wider society.

All of this begins with us rethinking how we view ageing in our society – to stop thinking of older people as an economic burden, and start recognizing the many and varied ways they have, and do, and can continue to live a good life in our wealthy and prosperous nation.

Thank you.

Australian women at greater risk during pandemic lockdown

Like the rest of the world, Australia is reporting a greater risk to women and children of experiencing violence during the global health pandemic.

Confirmation of the effect of government-directed restrictions that include stay-at-home orders, physical distancing, working at home and the closure of number of community services, has been explored in the results of two surveys of Queensland domestic violence practitioners.

The surveys were conducted by the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network over two 10-day periods in April and May 2020 and surveyed the professional views of domestic violence support workers. The surveys found an increase in:
• client numbers;
• the complexity of client needs;
• in reported controlling behaviour and manipulation;
• reported perpetrator anger/violence allegedly due to reduced income or job loss due to COVID-19; and
• additional pressure and stress on practitioners as a result of the transition to remote work and increased service demand as indicated by increased reporting.

These findings were published in a Monash University report Responding to Queensland’s ‘shadow pandemic’ during the period of COVID-19 restrictions and mirror Victorian research published in June 2020. Publication of the report is intended to increase understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 global health pandemic restrictions on women’s experiences of gender-based violence and practitioners’ experiences supporting women.

In April 2020, the United Nations Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, labelled violence against women the ‘shadow pandemic’ (UN Women, 2020b), recognising the heightened risk to women and children to all forms of gender-based violence. It has been estimated that for every three months the enforced lockdown restrictions continue, an additional 15 million cases of domestic violence will occur worldwide. One of the ongoing issues is that while the risk to women increases while they are confined to their homes, their access to support is reduced.

Pfitzner, N., Fitz-Gibbon, K., Meyer, S., and True, J. (2020). Responding to Queensland’s ‘shadow pandemic’ during the period of COVID-19 restrictions: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women. Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University, Victoria, Australia.
file:///I:/Writing/Qld%20Responding%20to%20the%20Shadow%20Pandemic%20Report%2030June20.pdf

Life during Covid-19 – early findings

After conducting a survey of over 7,000 respondents, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has released its early findings as to how people felt their lives had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Given that about 80% of the respondents were female with a higher educational level than the general population, it may not be completely representative but some significant trends do emerge.

Chief findings were:
 Women continued to do most of the housework as they did before the pandemic.
 The mother continued to do most of the childcare/schooling as they did before the pandemic.
 Almost half (43%) of respondents reported they or their partner had lost employment, reduced hours or wages. However 65% reported no real
change to their personal income.
 Grandparents were not able to support the families or provide childcare as before.
 Parent-only care rose from 30% before COVID-19 to 64% of families during the restrictions.
 The proportion of people always working from home rose from 7% to 60% during the restrictions.
 Young adults were disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn, being almost four times (15% vs 4%) more likely to ask for help from
government or NGOs.

Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19, Report no. 1: Early findings, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/families-australia-survey-life-during-covid-19