Can Auckland become an age-friendly city?

Auckland Council’s age-friendly action plan is a solid step in the right direction when it comes to creating a city that works for older people, but it doesn’t quite go far enough writes Claire Dale.

Auckland City
If we want to create a truly age-friendly Auckland, we must do more to support our older workers, says Dr Claire Dale.

Tāmaki Makaurau has the largest and most ethnically and culturally diverse population of people aged 65 and older in the country, and that population will increase substantially over the next few decades.

As such, urgent work is underway to transform our city into one that works for the over 65s. But there is one key area within its age-friendly planning that Auckland Council has not paid enough attention to: employment.

If we don't have conversations about how older workers can be retained, and we don't recognise the benefit of intergenerational work and knowledge, we risk losing valuable skills and experience and imposing hardship on ever-increasing numbers of older people and their communities.

The council's Tāmaki Makaurau Tauawhi Kaumātua (the Age-friendly Auckland Action Plan) doesn't go far enough.

However, there is much to celebrate about the plan, which includes the World Health Organisation's eight core characteristics of an age-friendly city: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; communication and information; community support and health services; and civic participation and employment.

In addition, the plan includes two new areas: Kaumātua, and culture and diversity. It also expands the outdoor spaces and buildings domain to become Te Taiao - the natural and built environment, and it incorporates a Māori wellbeing framework.

This age-friendly agenda benefits the whole community - all ages, abilities and cultures, and it is future-proofed, in part by engaging local boards in their own projects. But the lack of attention given to employment is cause for concern.

Claire Dale, Susan St John
Dr Claire Dale, pictured with Associate Professor Susan St John, is a Research Fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Auckland and a member of Auckland Council's Senior Advisory Panel

Research for Auckland's age-friendly plan found that 13 percent of older Aucklanders (around 26,000 people) did not have enough money to meet their everyday needs. For many of these people, employment means they can pay their rent and power bills and still eat.

Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission's recent Work and the Workforce report showed that 24 percent of New Zealanders over 65 are still working compared to 10 percent of those over 65 in the UK, 12 percent in Australia, 19 percent in the US and 20 percent in Japan.

Meanwhile, among New Zealanders aged 65 to 69, 44 percent still have jobs. This is a significant number of people who need support in an often ageist environment.

As the workforce is ageing, the nature of work is changing - technology and automation are creating new roles and laying rest to others. For older workers to transition and meet employer demands such as harnessing new skills, they need retraining.

Retirement Commission findings over past years also reinforce what we know about our ageing workforce and ageism in general.

In May 2019, a survey of 500 companies by the Retirement Commission found that most employers agreed there was a shortage of highly experienced workers and that those employers surveyed had a positive attitude towards older workers, finding them no different to other age groups regarding resistance to change, absenteeism or sick leave.

However, 80 percent of those employers had no specific strategies or policies to attract and retain older workers, and the majority agreed that older workers can face barriers to being hired because of age.

The survey also asked if there were enough training opportunities for people over 50, and only 17 percent of respondents said yes.

Older worker

Auckland's age-friendly plan focuses primarily on volunteering opportunities for older people, and although it doesn't go far enough when it comes to exploring how to best support our more senior people to continue to work, there are some national strategies designed to improve the landscape.

Supporting older people to stay in the workforce and transition their skills as they age is a key part of the new nationwide Older Workers Employment Action Plan He Mahere Mahi Whakawhiwhi Mahi mō te Hunga Pakeke.

Along with this plan, the Ministry for Seniors has developed the 'Mature Workers Toolkit' to support improved age-friendly practices, and assist with hiring, developing and retaining mature workers.

Meanwhile, the Government has another strategy designed to support the ageing demographic: Better Later Life He Oranga Kaumātua, the vision of which is that older New Zealanders lead valued, connected and fulfilling lives.

The first action plan within the Better Later Life strategy focuses on employment, housing and digital inclusion. All three areas are important, but in many cases, employment is vital.

Overall, if we want to create a truly age-friendly Auckland, we must do more to support our older workers.

We all need to upskill constantly in this rapidly changing world, where bank transactions, bill payments and even employment require an online presence. Who knew this would be the way of the future?

The fact remains that face-to-face, kanohi ki te kanohi, enables humanity, and so much more learning. We need to review our approach and access to training and retraining, and remember who we are training and why we need them.

Dr M. Claire Dale is a Research Fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Auckland and a member of Auckland Council's Senior Advisory Panel.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on 18 August 2022.

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