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Changing perspectives : two sides of the ageing coin

Stephanie Clarestephanie-clare

Chief Executive | Age Concern New Zealand

Where do older people actually live?  Where will older people live in the future?  Changing lifestyle patterns and living environments in New Zealand are exposing some hidden impacts for older people.

The picture of becoming older in this country often presents two distinct extremes.  Negative images of ageing depict older people as losing mental and physical abilities being confined to rest homes staring at the walls.  On the other hand, commercial advertising campaigns present happy couples going on cruises and living in modern apartments give impressions of well off, active people enjoying their retirement years in exclusive settings with others of their generation.

But in how far are these opposite images the reality for older people living in this country? For the majority of those over 65 in our society, their expectation is to be living in the same community as they do now.  This is reflected in government policy.  ‘Ageing in place’ policies have spearheaded practical approaches for older people to live in their own homes.  Having people rehabilitated from hospital following medical events back to their usual environments is supported by having ‘home supports’ services available. In practice, there is regional variability as to how much home support is available, and how many weeks are offered.   Yet, remaining or reintegrating within our own community is a valuable part of New Zealand’s lifestyle.

However there are some assumptions that require further examination.  From the 2013 census around 60% of those aged over 65, lived in couple/partnered households.  But as their age increases, the rate of partnered household decreases, with the life expectancy of men still five years less than for women.  Increasing numbers of one person households is also a sociological feature of all adult age groups in New Zealand.  Add to this the demographic “ageing population” predictions, we can assume there will be many more older people living in one person households – largely older women.

How does this fit into the ‘quarter acre pavlova paradise’ picture that today’s older people grew up in?  Home ownership has been a value of the ‘kiwi lifestyle’ and was a reality for much in the past century.  Even for those who were supported into “state housing rental” under previous government regimes, could assume these as their life-long homes.

The majority of the current older population do own their homes, but the new millennium is challenging this assumption for the future.  The increasing proportion of wages required to buy (or even pay a deposit) for a house is making home ownership less feasible.  Life-long renting is becoming a more usual option in this country: and not only for those marginalised from the mainstream through having health, disability or addiction challenges.

Currently, there are a widespread policy assumptions that when an older person reaches the age of eligibility for superannuation, they will live in their own house without a mortgage.  Government superannuation rates are set on the basis that home ownership means older people have low accommodation costs.

However, there are increasing numbers of those turning 65 who are renting and have to seek accommodation in the rental market.  At the same time the supply of rentals has reduced.  Housing New Zealand’s role has been widely publicised with its reduction of rental options, particularly in big cities.  Many local government councils, who historically provided accommodation for older people no longer provide “pensioner housing”.  They argue that it is not part of their “core business” and that they don’t have the means to do this.

Local Age Concerns report that the housing rental market has become unaffordable for older people.  Superannuitants without additional income cannot afford big city rents, and are gradually being driven out of medium sized cities too as their rental rates also increase.  Some local Age Concerns and other NGOs attest to the challenges of finding reasonable living options for older people who cannot pay market rents.

At-risk and vulnerable older people are also part of the homeless picture in this country and it is usually social service NGOs who are left to support them.   The homeless don’t feature on the glamourous advertising travel brochures targeting the older generation, but all older people need to be considered as part of our society.  Innovation to develop inclusive housing alternatives and diverse living solutions for older people is urgently required.  The New Zealand vision for housing policies, must involve the changing life-course perspectives that impact on ageing in our country.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/