Older Western Australians enjoy better health than their counterparts in the rest of the country and have some of the highest income and wealth in the nation, but the gap between rich and poor WA residents who are elderly is of considerable concern, according to a new report.
Older Western Australians enjoy better health than their counterparts in the rest of the country and have some of the nation’s highest levels of income and wealth, but the gap between rich and poor WA residents who are elderly is of considerable concern, according to a new report.
According to a report on the challenges of WA’s ageing population released today by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, a collaboration between the bank and Curtin University, the state’s ageing population is a positive development, albeit with a few notable exceptions.
The report says that, by 2050, there will be more than 1 million people over the age of 65 living in WA, driven by the proportion of older Western Australians increasing from 12.8 per cent currently to 18.3 per cent.
Concerns about adequate rural aged care services are set to increase following data that show people over 65 are not evenly distributed across the state, with much higher proportions in the Peel region, and particularly in agricultural communities in the Wheatbelt, and Great Southern regions.
The report found older people who had left work but wanted to return had great difficulty in finding employment, with more than half of those aged 55 years and over giving up job searches after becoming discouraged by the lack of career opportunities for older people.
KPMG demographer Bernard Salt, who spoke at the report’s launch, said while older people should be encouraged to take a blended approach to retirement (by continuing to remain the workforce for longer while reducing their hours), he was also concerned by many baby boomers’ sense of entitlement.
Mr Salt said because many had paid taxes during their careers, they believed they deserved unlimited access to government services once they retired.
“We have had comfortable prosperity for the last 50 or 60 years that has cultivated an attitude, a culture, a set of expectations that is completely out of proportion to the generation which was modest in number and expectation that has proceeded it,” he said.
“It’s this tsunami effect of all these baby boomers coming towards us and with high levels of expectation and this sense of entitlement that I’ve paid my taxes and I’m entitled to this standard of living.
“We’re spending more time in retirement than in a tax paying stage in the lifecycle.
“We either need to pay a whole lot more tax while we’re working or we need to extend the working life, or we need to moderate our expectations in retirement, or we need to do all three and I think we’ll do all three and it still won’t be enough, this is an issue of managing expectations.”
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ken Marston, who also spoke at the report’s launch, said he remained concerned about the need to manage the aged pension adequately.
“We’re seeing significant number of (elderly) people unable to pay bills. Lack of financial planning is (also) a major worry. Clearly that leads to poor decision making,” he said.
The report found that, with the exception of the territories, older households in WA had higher income and wealth than other states.
It said the average WA household aged 45 years and over was estimated to have a net income of $82,000 and net wealth of over $1.1 million, compared with an average national income of $74,000 and average national wealth of $1 million.
However, the report also found the gap between the poorest and richest older households was higher in WA than the rest of Australia.
Mr Marston said for women especially, many older Australians were disadvantaged and vulnerable, and there was a paucity of age appropriate housing.
He said while the report found older age Western Australians enjoyed better health than their counterparts in the rest of the country, he remained concerned about high reported rates of people feeling pressured or forced to retire, and others living with mental illness.
“In terms of suicide and depression, very few people know that seniors are in the highest ranks throughout Australia and we don’t know and we don’t much care,” Mr Marston said.
Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre director Alan Duncan said while it was encouraging to see that older Western Australians were generally more likely to report good health than those of the same age in the rest of the country,but work needed to be done to address the vulnerable groups the report had uncovered.
Professor Duncan said almost one in five Western Australians aged 55 and over were renting, with many often facing a severe rental cost burden in old age.
“Women who have experienced marital breakdown or bereavement are over-represented amongst older renters. They are a particularly vulnerable group because in addition to owning no housing assets, they have very low levels of superannuation savings,” he said.
Professor Duncan called on the state and federal governments to coordinate services for elderly Australians, particularly in relation to health and housing.