Helping our older residents to shift into the Third Age

| May 24, 2013

Australians are generally living longer and healthier lives. At the GAP/ACHR Conference on Productive Ageing, Sally Betts, Mayor of Waverly Council, explained how local governments can provide opportunities for older residents to engage in all spheres of community life.

In 2009 the State Government introduced the concept of Integrated Planning and Reporting to the Local Government Sector. The NSW Government’s integrated planning and reporting legislation requires councils to develop a long-term community strategic plan. Our 12-year Community Strategic Plan, Waverley Together 2, reflects the Waverley community’s long-term priorities and aspirations for the future. This plan was drawn up with the community being regularly consulted about their vision and long term aspirations and covers a whole of life scenario, even if Local Government does not or could not deliver those specific services.

We know that Local Government is the level of Government closest to its community and therefore is well placed to plan and work with our older residents to ensure that they transition to “The Third Age”.

In the Waverley LGA, the older population aged 70-74 has decreased over the last decade. However, our empty nesters and retirees aged 60-69 have increased by around 900 people to 7% of the total population.

Waverley does have a lower proportion of older workers (50-59 year olds), retirees (60-69 year olds) and seniors (70-84 year olds) but a slightly higher proportion of elderly residents aged over 85 years compared to the Greater Sydney region. We have 1382 residents over 85 years of age; a number which has grown slightly. I have to say, quite a few of those 1382 are very active and are leading fulfilling lives, but that is perhaps because generally people in Waverley fall into a slightly higher socio-economic group and are in the higher educated bracket.

I think the whole of metropolitan Sydney is experiencing the same increase in our aged residents.

Generally speaking, people are living longer, healthier lives, and we want to provide opportunities to enable them to engage in all spheres of community life.

I have to agree with Minister Constance who at the beginning of the NSW Ageing Strategy said that this is a great opportunity to realise the benefits of an ageing population and to harness the contribution of seniors in our communities.

Today, I’m going to discuss a few ways that Local Government is successfully able to do this.

  1. Volunteering:

In Waverley 18% of our residents volunteer in some way. The figure for the SSROC region (16 Councils) is slightly less.

When today our subject is how to harness our ageing population and help them lead a fuller healthier live, then volunteering may just be the answer.

While Waverley’s age profile of volunteers varies depending on the nature of the service, the majority is made up of older people.

  • 50% of bushcare volunteers are over 50, only a quarter are under 35.
  • All of our 25 to 30 volunteers supporting our services for seniors are over 65, with a significant proportion being well into their 70’s and 80’s.
  • Similarly, Meals on Wheels relies on older volunteers to deliver meals and assist with shopping tasks. 65% of MoW volunteers are between 60 and 70 years of age.
  • Waverley’s Cemetery records 70% of its volunteering base to be over 65.

This is not just a Waverley thing. Volunteering capacity is decreasing everywhere but it’s not just the shrinking number that’s alarming.

Most volunteer coordinators bemoan the fact that the trend is definitely going towards a once off engagement – people choose to support a cause, sign a petition, take part in a marathon, help out in a BBQ fundraiser or coach their kids’ soccer team for a season.

The role of local government will be to meet this challenge and to make this a priority. Waverley has already flagged the need for improving our volunteering capacity in its integrated planning process as part its Strategic Plan.

Seniors in our community really play a vital part in filling our volunteering roles, and we absolutely cannot stress enough the importance of the services that our volunteers deliver.

Some of our local community services could not function without the support of our volunteers.

65 -70% of all our volunteers are over the age of 60.

We have a volunteer policy with a range of practical strategies. These help us use our organisational resources and networks to develop meaningful and productive volunteering experiences for an increasingly aspirational and highly skilled pool of mature residents.

This is, I believe, where ‘Managing for Change’ comes in.

We have seen a great shift in the volunteering sector. With the ‘older’ age cohort of long term volunteers gradually diminishing, the current generation of people over 55 does not necessarily find traditional roles particularly attractive or satisfying.

This means a few things:

  1. We need to prepare our services for this change in order to meet this new challenge. An example of this sort of work is Council’s 2012 ‘Common Ground Common Purpose’ forum, which brought small community services together to build capacity and manage the changing face of volunteering.
  2. We also have to work very differently with this new ‘breed’ of volunteers. Many of these potential volunteers are highly skilled professionals and are looking for meaningful and engaging roles with raised expectations for recognition and personal fulfillment. We need to work in innovative ways to open up creative opportunities to introduce volunteering to the over 55s.
  3. We need to talk about the ways in which age stigma can be reduced, because societies do improve when we fully utilise the experience and contribution of older Australians.
  4. Many of you know John Dee, NSW Australian of the Year in 2010, who co-founded  Planet  Ark with Pat Cash and who is now running Do Something Near You, a community volunteering directory. Waverley was the first Council, under my mayoralty, to work with John to test and then make Do Something Near You part of our website to promote volunteering – not only to volunteers, but also to organisations looking for volunteers. And it is free to all parties.

It is a website, which encourages people to connect with their community and enables them to enter their postcode to find relevant initiatives they may like to join.

We live in an instant society and even our elderly people are busy and we need to make live easy for them. This website is terrific. You enter your postcode and “bobs your uncle” you have a choice of where you can volunteer.

Other than local volunteering opportunities, there are many people who contribute to causes on the other side of the globe. This has been made possible through internet access and increased interest in our older population to stay connected, even if their decreased mobility may have become a barrier in their day to day lives.


2.      So we move onto communication and access to communication

One of our small community groups we support are ‘Computer Pals for Seniors’ who provide tution, guidance and mentoring for our older people keen to keep up and remain productive in their Third age, and to enable them to tap into a world of opportunity beyond the local.

Approximately one third of people in Waverley were born overseas.

28% of people in Waverley have only lived in Australia for five years and 18% of people come from a country where English is not their first language. For example Russian is our second most spoken language in our homes. Of course, how to manage an ageing population is nothing new, and governments have been planning for it for some time.

So when we think about how we can keep our slightly older or elderly residents active and valued, Local Government is the tier of Government best suited to look after them, inspire them to look for another job or take on a volunteering role because we know them.


3.      Delivering appropriate services

We are constantly asking ourselves, how we can provide services for people to help them stay active, healthy and involved.

And how we can harness the opportunities offered to us by older people?

You need to work with us because we can do this. We may need some financial support to deliver this solution to our older Australians, but we also probably just need your advice and support whilst we deliver what we know we are best at delivering. Other levels of Government have the resources, but I don’t think they have the connection with our older people that we do. We need to work out a service delivery model that allows other tiers of government to support us whilst we deliver the services, care and support that we are the best level of Government to deliver.


4.      Valuing our older Australians

If we want our older Australian to contribute to our communities, we need to ensure that they feel valued and needed. Engaging older people meaningfully in all planning and decision making opportunities is really important to ensure people’s voices are heard and are reflected in shaping our communities.

People in our community post-55 are active, healthy, smart and well educated – they have widely differing interests, aspirations, strengths and needs, and our challenge is how to capture these strengths to benefit the whole community.


5.      Ensuring physical access for everyone in our open spaces


Local Government is also responsible for the look and feel of the public domain – and how it works.

We are committed to providing age friendly, welcoming and universally accessible environments for our community.

Again, our focus on creating interesting and vibrant spaces is not just about access – it’s also about how these spaces contribute to social interaction and connectivity, and most importantly that people feel safe. We know that if our older residents do not feel safe, they will not go out and become less and less active as time goes on.

Many older Australians are great walkers, and we are lucky that we have our wonderful beaches and cliff and coastal walk. However, steps are a problem, and we are continually finding ways to make it easier to access these areas.

At our Seniors Centre we are proud to offer a range of workshops and classes from Zumba to fall prevention, which suit a range of needs from the well aged to the very frail aged.

We also teach crossword skills and computer skills at our Library to ensure that we continue to stimulate our older residents as well.

6.      Housing and staying connected

I’ve discussed the fact that people are living longer and more active lives. So it stands to reason that the ability to remain in their own homes and stay connected is very important.

The Waverley LGA, like other inner metropolitan areas, has experienced increasing gentrification over the past 20 years and accompanying changes in social composition.

Housing costs in Waverley have dramatically increased. Over 50% of people in Waverley are renters. People of retirement age who are renting privately are particularly at risk of having to move to more affordable areas. With few boarding houses left, homelessness is an issue for some.

We are at the forefront of councils providing affordable housing programs that enable residents on lower incomes to remain in Waverley.

These include:

  • an Affordable Housing Program funded through voluntary planning agreements for families on low to moderate incomes, and a
  • Social Housing Program that includes housing for older people on low incomes, and supported housing for people with a mild intellectual disability.
  • We have a total portfolio of 99 properties which we own or have an interest in – some shared with the NSW Government. 55 of these are specifically social housing for older persons

Council is also actively advocating for better state planning laws to improve our delivery of affordable housing.


All of our practices, programming of services and planning processes at Council are underpinned by four principles – equity, fairness, access and rights. Everything that we do for our ageing population comes down to two factors.

Firstly, it’s identifying, recognising and respecting the diversity of needs of our seniors.

Waverley has one of the highest spends per capita within metropolitan Sydney on community services and we are proud of this fact. Our spend is the second highest in NSW at approximately $116.84 per capital compared to the average of $66.07.

With rapidly changing community demographics, keeping on top of needs and demands is not always easy. We need to provide opportunities for people with very different abilities.

Secondly, it’s harnessing their great skills, energy and enthusiasm. We play a significant role in ensuring that mature age people remain engaged, healthy and active, so that they can continue to be productive and meaningful members of our community.

For this to happen, we need everyone to work together – Commonwealth, State Governments, our local Government partners, business and community.

I believe Local Government is the best level of Government to deliver services to our older residents and help them shift into the third age. We don’t have the resources, of course. We need to seriously look at a model where duplication is reduced and that we, at our level, provide a one stop shop for our older, most valued Australians.

In SSROC we are already looking at models where we can use shared services to better provide for our older residents across all 16 councils. That model needs to be shared across all tiers of Government.