By Kris Faafoi
At a function in Christchurch recently I met a retired man who said he'd found new hope - in the blogosphere of all places to discuss, argue and malign all sorts of topics for older Kiwis. It was, he said "a hot bed which is getting more glowing coals shovelled on every week".
It's a sweeping generalisation and one that I think the gentleman proved me to be in some degree, wrong (yes I did say that), given I assumed the blogosphere to be a frontier only explored by those deemed ‘young’.
So seeing as the blogosphere is a place where there is no ageism, I thought I'd traverse the issue of our growing older population and explore how we as Kiwis expect them to be cared for and, importantly, how they would like and expect to be cared for.
Put simply what we have is an impending supply and demand problem.
The number crunchers at Stats New Zealand reckon that by 2031 one in five Kiwis will be over 65 years old. Add to that life expectancies are predicted to rise and the proportion of New Zealanders 85 years or older is going to rise and it's clear that aged care is an issue on the horizon that NZ needs to start addressing now.
And the biggest issue is the workforce.
Aged care workers right now are doing a damned good job of looking after Kiwis in their rest homes, hospitals or homes.
These workers, usually middle aged women, do tough, physically, emotionally and mentally demanding work with an infinite well of empathy and compassion. Most get paid the minimum wage or pretty close to it.
The tireless Dr Judy McGregor, our Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, could not have said it better when she said earlier this year; "New Zealand cannot afford to ignore this clear injustice for a large group of low paid but much-needed workers, given the demographic tide of older people and the shortfall of people required to look after them.”
A fair living wage is just one issue, however. There are also issues around training, attracting more younger Kiwis and men to work in the industry, minimum staffing levels and, of course, access for all Kiwis to a minimum level of care that we can all be proud of and that we would all want for our own family members.
New Zealand is a caring, fair and decent country. We can continue to be that country in the next few decades if we take on the challenge of preparing to look after our elders. The problem is National is ignoring the challenge. It has put it in the "let's leave that for the next Government to sort out" tray.
John Key's short termism has been a disappointment to most. He promised a brighter future for all Kiwis. For older Kiwis, he's been all hot air.
The only time he’s mentioned older Kiwis in the media is when he’s talked about them all dying off.
His Government needs to catch up and join the conversations that are happening all around it about preparing for a future where all older New Zealanders are cared for well.
At the moment John Key is being left behind - and it's no-one’s fault but his own.
Kris Faafoi is Labour Spokesperson for Aged Care