Unemployed older people turn to volunteering

Older Australians often turned to volunteering if they were out of work or had suffered age discrimination in the workplace, a new survey has shown.

The Benevolent Society’s Dr Kirsty Nowlan said many older people who were not in paid employment often became volunteers because they believed they had more to contribute.

In its recent survey of 1,005 Australians aged 50 and over, the society found 60 per cent of respondents had encountered ageism on the job or while job seeking.

“We have known for some time that people over the age of 55 have been experiencing age discrimination both in looking for work and in their workplace and our survey confirms that,” Dr Nowlan said.

“We believe that many older Australians have chosen to volunteer if they cannot find paid work because they have a lot to contribute to the community.

“Volunteering offers connection and a sense of purpose, as well as the chance to learn new skills.

“Additionally, we know from our respite care programs that many people who are retirement age are in a position where they are caring for others, usually family members, such as their grandchildren or spouses.

“This is unpaid work, especially caring for little ones while their parents work, and it is in effect love combined with volunteering.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has found that being over the age of 55 was a barrier to finding a job or getting more hours of paid work, and 35 per cent of those surveyed had experienced discrimination because of their age.

The AHRC said that Australians aged 65 and older contributed $39 billion each year in unpaid caring and volunteer work, and should be recognised for their role in building strong and healthy communities.

Increasing paid employment of Australians over 55 years by five per cent would add $48 billion to the bottom line of the national economy every year, the commission said.

National Seniors’ research has also shown widespread age discrimination in the workplace and that older Australians have high rates of unpaid volunteer work.

Events including morning teas, lunches and award ceremonies will be held around Australia to mark National Volunteer Week  (21-27 May 2018) to thank the estimated six million people who donate their time and efforts unpaid.

According to Volunteering Australia’s 2015 research, people aged 55 and over volunteer 80 hours a year while those over 65 volunteer 104 hours per year, an average of about 2.5 hours a week.

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