The seniors gap year: Why 70 is the new 40
HALF the Aussies born today will live to be 100 and it is time to introduce a senior's gap year where older workers take a year off work to consider their next 20 years says Aged Care minister Ken Wyatt.
Describing 70 as the new 40, Mr Wyatt is warning Australians they will have to prepare for a future in which they will be healthy enough to work or volunteer well into their eighties.
"More than six million of Australians now aged between 50 and 75 are facing an extended life expectancy," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.
Researchers at the London Business School had calculated that children born today in the US, Canada, Italy or France had a 50 per cent chance of living to at least 104, and 107 if they came from Japan.
"These projections are the real deal. Therefore, we need to seriously refocus our attention on living better," he said.
This new age could bring us fulfilment and freedom but it has to be managed by a gradual move to part time employment, changing careers, volunteer work or a combination of both.
Too many Australians who retired wished later they had stayed on at work and their employers often found it hard to find a replacement worker with their experience and knowledge, he said.
"For all of these reasons, I personally believe we should consider a "seniors gap year", made available for employees, in the lead up to the traditional retirement age," he said.
"Like teenagers have done for decades, as they plan their studies and career paths, this "gap year" could allow older people to map out their future, while maintaining job security," he said.
The question they would consider during this year would be what they do for the next few decades? How will they continue to contribute and harness their knowledge and skills for the benefit of society and the economy?
"Just imagine if, when we reach 60 and we are thinking of retiring, and we are given the opportunity to take 12 months' leave without pay and go and do the grey nomad travelling, do all the things you wanted to do on your bucket list for 12 months, and then you come back and you say to your employer, I'm back, I'm ready to start working again' he said.
Mr Wyatt said his idea was not government policy but he spoke of how after he took a redundancy package in his fifties he decided he wanted to re-enter the workforce.
National seniors policy advocate Ian Henschke said it was important for people to consider if they were ready for retirement but "I'm not sure it requires an entire gap year".
People should experiment with retirement by using their long service leave before they retire to see if they are ready to leave the workforce, he said.
"If you took six months long service leave at half pay that would be sufficient to understand whether playing golf six days a week or doing pottery and art classes was right for you rather than working, he said.
Scott Barklamb, Director of Workplace Relations at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Australia needed creative ideas for a national discussion on retaining more Australians in work, as the Minister has provided today.
"Expanded options for flexibility seem the most productive area to look at, and we should better empower employers and their older employees to work out flexible arrangements that best meet their needs," he said.
"Just as planning your retirement is important for individuals, succession planning is important for businesses. We would be wary of any provision that introduced greater uncertainty for business or made succession planning even more difficult," he said.
The minister is also calling for major changes to the way we treat the aged many of whom are lonely and who live in aged care facilities where they receive no visitors at all.
He wants small houses grouped around a central kitchen and living room built to improve housing options for the aged.
"When I talk to people in Aged Care, I find so many who crave simple touch, a hug, the warmth of palms clasped together, or a soothing hand on their shoulder,' he said.
It was distressing that 40 per cent of people in nursing homes did not receive a single visitor 365 days of the year, he said.
"Our elders should hold a special place in our society - they are not to be sent away or shunned, but remain fundamental to family groups and communities, as wisdom-givers," Mr Wyatt said.
Older people should be valued for who they are, not just in terms of economics, but for what they have done and continue to do
Mr Wyatt on Wednesday announced a $2.8 million consultation to set out a plan for future investment for My Aged Care, this will be done in close consultation with consumers, service providers and community partners.
The government has recently embarked on a major expansion of home care services that provide help for the elderly in their own homes so they don't need to move into aged care facilities.