Meagan Lawson, the CEO of the Council of the Ageing, talks about a new report which shows just how older Australians are spending their time and money, and if they really are “living the dream”
Introduction: Time and money….. can you have both?
Ross Greenwood: Right over your company on Work.Life.Money. Now, Work.Life.Money, that’s the title of this program. You got to imagine that as you get older, this whole notion of life, and also work and money becomes a little bit important to you, and especially when you realize you probably don’t have enough life maybe for the money that you have got. Or indeed, that could lead you to work longer. These are all the key issues for many Australians right now but certainly into the future as well. There’s an organization called Council on the Ageing, which had been around for a long, long time which does seeming incredible advocacy work for older Australians.
In particular issues of accommodation of health, of inheritance, of superannuation, all these type of things and right now, what it’s done is looked at the attitudes of the way in which aging Australians are trading their money and their time. It’s going to be interesting to observe some of the findings. The chief executive of the Council on the Ageing is Meagan Lawson, is on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Meagan.
Interview with Meagan Lawson, CEO, Council of the Ageing
Meagan Lawson: Thanks, Ross. Good to be here.
Ross Greenwood: All right. It’s a great study and it really unveils some of these deep-seated attitudes. As you were looking through the results, was there anything that stood out that really surprised you?
Meagan Lawson: I think there’s a few things. One of the things I think is really important that we talk about is that a lot of people are talking about older people as being a burden. In fact, what we found in this report is that older people are really very big contributors. They contribute to their families, and that’s financially as well as in caring and lots of ways like that. Also they’re very big contributors into the community, they’re volunteering, but they also buy a lot of services so they’re actually very important to the economy as well. That’s one of the really headline findings that we can pull out of this data.
Ross Greenwood: One of the things that I would imagine however, is when you think about this, Meagan, the stresses of aging and the stresses of health issues, the stresses of family in many cases, but also then the stresses of the money, or not enough money. These are real issues that, if you like, determines the person’s lifestyle as they age.
Meagan Lawson: Very much so. Some of the other things that we pull out are that people are very concerned, as you said in your intro, about having enough money to last. When the age pension was introduced in Australia back in the early 1900s, the average life expectancy for man was 56 so most people didn’t get to retire. Whereas now, we’re looking at 20, 25, 30 years of retirement and feeling confident that you have enough money to last through that period of time is actually something that not a lot of people feel.
People are worried about having enough to get through that period.
Ross Greenwood: One of the other aspects of this is you would have done work on this previously is of course, the real issue is that they may wish to work longer to extend their superannuation or the money that they have to live off. But when you get to 50 plus, it becomes increasingly difficult to gain a new job if you happen to find yourself out of your previous one.
Meagan Lawson: That’s exactly right. It’s quite hard and lots of employers have very old-fashioned attitudes about work and how people want to work. I know when I was with FAX previously, we did some work looking at how older people want to treat their retirement, and a lot of them were quite keen to segue way out of the workforce over a period of time rather than just dropping dead.
At the launch of this report the other day, I was saying for example that my dad took three goals to retire because he wasn’t really ready for what that meant, and didn’t have enough to fill his life up. He had to plan that out in a few different ways to get there. But certainly, employer attitudes towards older people is something else that we’re quite concerned about because lots of people are going to want to work longer, and lots of people will actually need to work a bit longer.
Ross Greenwood: There’s two ends of the scale. Most people who believe that they will be self-sufficient enough, in other words almost self-managed retirees, as compared with those people who will live on the aged pension and therefore, it supported their need. Even the attitudes of those two groups of people had is starkly different. Obviously in confidence you can understand that.
But the other thing also that I did spot is that those people with the higher incomes and the higher balances, if you like, in their superannuation, they have the other stresses that they suddenly feel obliged. They should be looking after kids and grandkids financially, and then of course suddenly starts to drip down the amount of money they’ve got to look after themselves.
Meagan Lawson: That’s, right. Again, that goes to that uncertainty about how long you’re going to live to how much you’re going to need. I don’t think — most of us can’t answer that very well. Again, going back to that point earlier, the results of this survey show you that older people are really quite significant financial contributors to the generations that are following them. It varies from people who’ve got, as you say, bigger superannuation balances and so they’re more able.
If you look at that, they’re spending money to help with home deposits, they’re helping out with large purchases, but even at the other end of people who are surviving on a pension, oftentimes they are helping out with week-to-week expenses. It looks to us that people are contributing, it just depends on what their income type is and how much they can contribute, but that does continue to happen over time. We see this in the papers a lot, there’s lots of discussion about cost of living and how hard it is for younger people to get into the market and those kind of things. That’s very much reflective in the outcomes of this report.
Ross Greenwood: Just another interesting one for you is that, say for example, though as you point out, older Australians contribute to society, they volunteer, they do a range of different activities and so forth, the question is whether Australia actually wastes the resources of many aging Australians by not using them in a more active way that ultimately, a person retires and therefore they’re on the shelf unless they choose themselves to get off their backsides and try and volunteer or find something to do. I just wonder whether there really is a wasted resource, especially in the workforce where people could, in many cases, cry out for older workers.
Of course, trying to put the workers and the employers together is a very difficult thing.
Meagan Lawson: It is a tricky thing but I think you’re right. I was talking to a neighbor of mine the other day who worked with a bunch of older workers who are now transferring their skills to a younger generation. It’s because they have particular skills in the kind of work that they’re doing, that’s really useful. We would like to see programs where that worked across other kinds of profession as well because there is a lot of wealth of knowledge, and a wealth of experience and training and all of that stuff that has work places and the government and everyone has put all of that effort into getting people to a certain competence level.
Losing it at the end and not having it passed on is a bit of a deficit for the community at large, because there is a lot of skill and knowledge there.
Ross Greenwood: There’s no doubt about that. I tell you what, they sometimes call it the golden years or living the dream, whatever you might wish to call it, but the truth is there are stresses involved in aging. There are stresses involved in retirement. There are stresses involved in trying to live off your own resources for an unknown period of time as well. This report does shed plenty of light on that. The Chief Executive just appointed recently of the Council on the Ageing, Meagan Lawson, we appreciate your time here on the program.
Meagan Lawson: Thanks very much, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Did you know you could be a part owner in more than 100 billion dollars worth of investments? Visit AustralianSuper.com.
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