Spaces for All Ages: Policies for an inclusive Australia

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April 2015

By Emily Millane

Population, participation and productivity. These are the “three Ps” which feature in Australia’s intergenerational reports as the means to ameliorate the negative economic implications of an ageing society.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) invoked the three Ps as a means to resolve the government’s self-described “challenge of change”. The challenge of change narrative is based around declining taxation revenue as a result of an ageing population. The increasing old age dependency ratio the number of working-age people to those older than the pension eligibility age – is not a new development;  it has been part of the story of Australia’s IGRs since the first one was released in 2002. As a result, the paucity of government policy proposals to respond to these long-term demographic trends is all the more notable. Policy is the forgotten “P”.

This paper responds by proposing three policy ideas that seek to create spaces for all ages, through culture, the workplace and the neighbourhood. Creating physical and temporal spaces for all ages is the focus, rather than simply workplace participation because the term “participation” in the context of older Australians has come to have a limited economic meaning.

As social researcher Hugh Mackay has written, the need for thriving, strong communities in which to participate strikes at the core of what it means to be human (2009: 42). Creating an age-inclusive society isn’t, therefore, just directed at older people. It provides an environment to foster participation by all age groups and all backgrounds, and an opportunity to imagine different ways of living together.

Older people in Australia are ascribed a lesser value in society and the economy. They are often taken to be less capable of driving a forklift, running a meeting, pouring beers at a bar or playing in a band. Consciously or subconsciously, the idea of being less capable or being a “burden” on society sets in train a pattern of thinking which is very hard to arrest.

Changing attitudes to age is therefore a central plank of creating an Australia for all ages. Community and individual attitudes inform age-based discrimination; changing them can help to overcome it. Creative experiments that are capable of being executed by government, business and the not-for-profit sector working together, and which treat ageing in a nuanced and sophisticated way, are a means to advance this.

Strong empirical evidence shows the benefit of lifting mature age participation for the Australian economy and for the physical and mental health of the individual worker. Where Australia has fallen short from a public policy perspective is in supporting older Australians to remain productive, through skills retraining and resources to adapt to a changing labour market. We recommend that the path towards higher labour force participation among older age groups is through training and job information resources for middle-to-late career workers.

In the area of social participation, this paper looks at urban design, or those physical features of the environment that extend beyond the home: people’s streets, suburbs, cities and towns and the design of public spaces like parks and walkways. Specifically, it considers how public spaces can be re-imagined to foster interactions across age groups. This section flows on from Per Capita’s previous report in the Longevity and Ageing series which looked at the quality of life of older Australians through the prism of the home.

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