For many countries, including Australia, the ageing population is placing pressure on the social security system. Retiring baby boomers and ageing Gen Xers are living longer than previous generations and expect a higher standard of living. Because of insufficient retirement savings, many will rely heavily on government-funded pensions and social assistance for income to sustain their standard of living. This phenomenon can lead to pensioner poverty, non-participation and, ultimately, poor health outcomes from social isolation and the inability to afford healthy lifestyles.
The solution? An oft-heard response is people should “work longer.” While this may be a viable solution for some, it’s not a practical option for all.
Finding pensioners’ “Goldilocks Zone”
In previous blogs, I coined the term “Goldilocks Zone for Social Services Delivery,” supporting a differential service response according to a person’s circumstances and the state’s capacity. This approach could also be applied to the needs of our ageing population, where policy and service delivery focuses on keeping people participating relative to their capacity, aspirations, needs and funding supports.
It may mean encouraging those who can work longer to do so and providing incentives for employers to hire older people on a part or full-time basis. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, removing barriers to labour force participation allows older people to remain in the workforce if they so desire. For those unable or with limited capacity to work, pension supplements or alternative means for social participation and engagement may be required.
Engaging seniors in the digital economy
The digital economy offers opportunities for seniors to socially and economically participate in new and innovative ways. Despite the stereotypes, older Australians are already embracing the digital economy. In 2017, 82% of 55 to 64-year-olds and 78% of seniors aged 65 to 75 owned a smartphone, up from 69% in 2016. From video calling and emailing distant friends or grandchildren to using social media and online education, seniors are enjoying digital technology like the rest of us.
Our seniors have worked hard and continue to provide valuable contributions to society beyond paid employment. It will be a generation or two before macro level policy solutions, such as compulsory superannuation (occupational pensions), have maximum effect in terms of income replacement. Until then, we need to address the rising risks of pensioner poverty and social isolation and the resultant impacts on health costs.
Healthy pensioners for a healthy society
Making social-related investments upfront to encourage a healthy, physically active and socially engaged older population could lead to significant dividends in the health budget in the longer-term. For example, social agencies could deliver innovative services through mobile platforms such as encouraging seniors to use gamification where there is evidence this can slow the onset of dementia.
Insight to drive this innovation can be gained through the vast amounts of data that social and health agencies have at their disposal. Turning this insight into actionable and affordable programs is the policy challenge, even more so when it involves crossing the funding boundaries of the social and health sectors.
Our seniors are the cornerstone of our families, and for the good of us all, we should consider their social and health needs in a holistic manner. Over the coming months, stay tuned for an executive roundtable series, “Cultivating Better Outcomes for Families at the Intersection of Social and Health Services,” where I will examine these issues further.
To find out how Accenture can help you leverage digital technology to engage with citizens, visit us at Accenture.com or contact me directly.