Respect for Age: Going, going or gone?

The aged care royal commission testimony raises questions beyond quality of care. Does the age-old value of respect still underwrite public policy and service delivery, let alone our personal relations? National Seniors research throws some interesting light on the topic, as John Austin reports.

We were raised with the values and manners of our parents who in turn lived those of their parents and ancestors, the church, the austere woes of the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. There was no greater life principle than giving ‘respect’.

Rattle forward 60 years and respect for others remains elusive, perhaps even on life-support. There is the perception that retirees, along with what they value, are being run down by those intent on themselves: government; policy makers; bureaucrats; banks; aged care services; and yes, those pesky young people.

The age care royal commission has exposed many years of hypocrisy. How can a society that values the concept of respecting the aged allow such things to happen, not just in isolation, but an entire system found to be unintentionally negligent and hurtful to those who least deserve it?

In the context of challenges to traditional patterns and expectations of ageing, including being respected, National Seniors sought the views of members. Nearly six thousand responded to an online survey. Stand out experiences of disrespect included:

Increasing publicity about the poor quality of care in residential facilities and, to some extent, home care;

Increasing waiting lists for care for which seniors have been approved;

  • Constant changes to the retirement income system without protection for affected older people who are then unable to rebuild their financial plans but are not provided with compensating income support;
  • Increasing barriers to applying for the age pension;
  • A provocative ‘intergenerational’ debate about whether younger people are suffering while older generations are doing better than ever; and
  • Progressive cultural analysis arguing that middle age now extends into the 70s, with the implication that Australians are healthier, wealthier and will work longer, living active mid-career lives to later ages without being dependent.

Show me the money

So, it seems the views of older Australians are not being heard or respected when major changes are made, particularly those directly affecting their finances. They feel they are targeted, for example, on tax concessions, whereas others who also benefit from tax concessions are unaffected.

Seniors have also experienced a decade of turbulence around national retirement income policy, which started with the Henry Report into the tax system in 2008. Most recently, significant changes to the Age Pension came into force on 1 January 2017, causing more than 300,000 people to have their pension entitlements cut.

“Why bother saving?”

Federal Labor proposes policy changes to dividend imputation credits. Media coverage of the issues associated with this policy included pension and superannuation changes. The Australian suggested that “ … [the policy] has potentially left up to one million self-funded retirees out of pocket” and, thus, many self-funded retirees are beginning to wonder why they’ve bothered saving.”

Holus-bolus changes to retirement income streams that disrupted lifestyles and planning, and which didn’t include consultation, were evidence of government no longer respecting seniors, according to National Seniors’ survey. Significant comment was made on the failure to ‘grandfather’ changes to retirement income i.e. protect those who already had made plans in good faith that they were now unable to correct to maintain their planned income.

Feeling entitled?

The ‘special’ status that society has traditionally afforded older and retired Australians is being challenged. Terms such as ‘privileged status’ and ‘entitled’ have crept into the discussion about tax policy, retirement income generation, and even housing and general age-based concessions. Seniors, it appears, must pay their way, rather than rest on the assumption they deserve special status by bent of longevity.

This questioning was most obvious in the Grattan Institute’s Age of entitlement: age-based tax breaks report, November 2016, which argued that certain specific senior tax breaks were no longer affordable. It commented, provocatively, that “ending the age of entitlement is a reform priority” and followed with a series of reports suggesting that “older Australians are putting increasing pressure on Australian budgets”.

Our research found significant fault-lines arising from the possibly disturbing world into which seniors now retire, the most emotionally charged being accusations of ‘entitlement’.

The research question “Do older Australians receive privileged treatment by government?” met with a resounding NO. One respondent commented, “Some people would resent the ‘privileged’ treatment because they have no experience or understanding of the contributions made by seniors, or maybe can’t imagine growing old themselves.”

The prickly subject of intergenerational contest surfaced. One senior asserted it was young people who were privileged. “Younger people these days start their working life on huge salaries and live life to the max – frequently spending before they earn it.”

While rejecting the notion they were receiving privileged treatment, 82% of respondents agreed they should be rewarded in retirement because they had spent all their lives paying taxes, raising children and contributing to the community. Most responded that people of age who don’t wish to work should not be compelled to do so, and 50% agreed that the Age Pension was a right and not a ‘last resort’.

Seniors National Seniors CEO and Research Director, Professor John McCallum describes the sneering ‘age of entitlement’ accusations being levelled at older Australians as politically dangerous.

“It’s a fake generational war that doesn’t exist in the eyes of older people, who generally give more help to their children than they receive,” Professor McCallum said.

Our research strongly indicated that the economics strongly feed into the framing of the issue and broader discussion about respect.

At a personal and social level, as author and speaker Steve Maraboli reminds us, respect is an essential value and it continues to be … well … valuable. “How would your life be different if… you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day… you look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”

The full report Respect for Age: Going, Going or Gone? Views of Older Australians can be downloaded below.

Download 'Respect for Age: Going, Going or Gone? Views of Older Australians' report

Respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. If you respect your teacher, you admire her and treat her well. People respect others who are impressive for any reason, such as being in authority — like a teacher or doctor — or being older — like a grandparent.

What is respect?

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