The treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said he wants older Australians to have the choice to work for longer if they wish to, but some say that more needs to be done to tackle ageism before that will happen.
In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Frydenberg said the Australian economy is facing “structural challenges” brought on by its ageing population.
He said Australia has gone from having 13 per cent, or 2.5 million people, being 65 years and over, to 16 per cent, or 4 million, people today.
“In Australia today there are 5,400 (people) who are over the age of 100. This number will increase more than five-fold to over 26,000 in the next 30 years,” he said.
By 2060 only 2.7 working people for every person 65+
The number of working people for every person aged 65 and over is decreasing. In 1974-75, there were seven working people for every person aged 65 and over. In 2014-2015, that number was 4.5 to one, and it’s estimated that in forty years there will be only 2.7 working people for every person aged 65 and above.
The changing demographics will mean both lower revenue for the government and higher costs, particularly in the areas of health, aged care and the pension.
“We need to develop policies that respond effectively to this challenge,” the treasurer said.
Australians should have the opportunity to work for longer
“Australians in work currently undertake 80 per cent of their training before the age of 21. This will have to change if we want to see more Australians stay engaged in work for longer,” the treasurer said.
“It’s not about forcing people to stay in the workforce but rather give them the opportunity and choice to pursue lifelong learning and skills training if they so choose,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said the government must act responsibly to counter domestic and global economic headwinds. Australia can’t afford “kneejerk reactions or respond to every request for funding,” he noted.
Discrimination can begin at 50
The Council on the Ageing (COTA) chief executive, Ian Yates, said he welcomes the treasurer’s comprehensive policies to plan for an older population, but he said it needs to be made easier for older people to work for longer.
“This isn’t about forcing people to work longer than they want to or are physically able to,” Mr Yates said in a statement. “It’s about supporting Australians to work longer who choose to do so, and creating and capitalising on opportunities for them to do so.”
Age discrimination often prevents older people from remaining in the workforce for as long as they’d like, Mr Yates said.
“A significant proportion of people aged between 65 and 75 are still working and more would do so if age discrimination and lack of support weren’t such barriers to remaining in the workforce, often from the 50s onwards,” he said.
“People work longer for many reasons, whether that be financial freedom, professional satisfaction or staying engaged socially, and they should be supported to work as long as they choose to,” he said.
Workplaces must welcome older workers
The University of New South Wales’ Scientia Professor of Economics and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), John Piggott, said the ageing demographic only becomes a “time bomb” if policymakers do not do enough to prepare for it.
“The UN has called population ageing unprecedented, pervasive, ubiquitous and profound. And it is. It will change the way our society operates over the next century,” he said.
Professor Piggott said Australians are already working for longer due to better health, but more could be done to entice older people into the workforce.
“Mature labour force participation can be enhanced with strong lifelong learning programs, and policies which encourage workplaces which welcome older workers,” he said.