The 2021 Intergenerational Report, released by the Australian Government, identified an ageing population as “Australia’s greatest demographic challenge”. Figures show that 16 per cent of the Australian population is aged 65 and over, and growing.
Yet, despite the evidence, there are no meaningful plans, or strategies to start mitigating the effects of an increasingly older population, says the Property Council’s NSW Executive Director Luke Achterstraat.
This is causing even more stress on the nation’s already strained health and aged-care systems.
Partial solution lies in purpose-built communities
There are communities such as retirement villages and land-lease estates that combine purpose-built, age-friendly housing with access to care and high levels of social engagement, says Mr Achterstraat.
“Importantly, they are a critical element of healthy ageing through the support they provide to enable people to live independently while retaining social connections with friends and neighbours.
“By removing retirement living from specific planning zones, raising the minimum age of entry from 55 to 60, which specifically shuts the door to an affordable housing option for women who are increasingly at risk of homelessness, the draft SEPP is a giant leap backwards for healthy ageing,” he adds.
SEPP, which stands for State Environmental Planning Policy, is a government initiative developed for the protection and management of our natural environment. As such, these areas are important to communities in delivering opportunities for physical health, economic security and cultural identity.
Government must step up
Research shows that retirement village residents are already saving governments more than $2 billion every year by mitigating the two biggest causes of hospitalisation in older Australians: falls and depression caused by social isolation.
It also shows that retirement village residents are living independently, on average, for up to five years longer than people in the general community.
“This is what healthy ageing is all about. It’s why we need more age-friendly communities, accessible to more people, rather than less.
“When governments make it harder and more expensive to build and operate age-friendly communities, they are clearly not taking Australia’s ageing crisis seriously,” says Mr Achterstraat.
It’s never too late to make a difference
The healthcare system and community living for aged care can reap the rewards of a good policy decision. The outcomes should benefit all residents. Of equal importance, it should ensure that future governments are not unnecessarily burdened with an unaffordable health system that is unable to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live.