Tracey Martin strikes a blow against ageism – here’s hoping the sentiment lasts more than a day (and that Genter was listening)

The team at Point of Order – proudly  comprising veteran journalists – had been blissfully unaware that yesterday was a special day for us.

It was International Older Persons Day, a matter of huge import drawn to our attention by Seniors Minister Tracey Martin.

Martin’s statement included some fascinating data:

  • By 2027 it is expected there will be a million seniors and by 2034, more than a fifth (21.4%) – 1.2 million New Zealanders – will be aged 65+.
  • As at June 2020 there were 88,000 people 85 or older –  11% of the senior population. That number is predicted to rise to 179,000 in 2034.
  • The senior population is increasingly diverse.  By 2034 the number of Māori aged 65+ will more than double from 2018 figures (from 48,500 to 109,400) the senior Pacific population will also do this (from 21,300 to 46,700), and there will be nearly three times as many Asian NZers aged 65+ (from 59,500 to 171,900).
  • Seniors currently make up around 6.7% of the workforce (in the June 2020 quarter).  By 2033 the number of seniors at work will increase by more than 50% and make up 9.5% of the workforce.

We were just as interested in – and hopeful about –  Martin’s declaration that International Older Persons Day had been a chance to think about the individual older New Zealanders we know and to confront ageism.

“On the International Day of Older Persons, let’s remind ourselves that older people are our parents and grandparents and move away from casual ageism.”

We would like to suppose ageism will be confronted far beyond the 24 hours of International Older Persons Day.

And we trust Martin took time to have a chat with Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter about her odious attitude to oldies.

The Point of Order crew remain emotionally damaged by Genter’s very wounding demand two years ago that older white men on company boards should move on to make way for younger, more diverse talent.

Younger white men – the way we interpreted Genter’s highly offensive remark – were acceptable to her, but not older ones (or the ones with greater experience).

This was ageism, loud and clear.

But let’s hear from OUR minister, Tracey Martin (while she still has a ministerial job).

“What happened around COVID-19 is a reminder that our over-65s are a very large and diverse group of people and we need to recognise this across government and in our lives,” Minister Martin says.

Hurrah.

“Like the rest of the developed world, New Zealand has an ageing population, which reflects more of us are living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

“This group – and I say group reluctantly – aren’t all the same. Seniors, those over 65, are 800,000 very different individuals with very different circumstances and needs.”

Inevitably, Martin drew attention to the reality that some of us are an economic burden on taxpayers.

Some older people have health or mobility or income issues and they do need extra support and care.

But Martin was putting a much-welcomed positive spin on things and noted that

“ … many are still in paid work and lots of our seniors are people who look after others – their children, grandchildren, others in their communities – rather than people who need help themselves.”

The name Winston Peters springs to mind, although we might review his situation before the month is out.

“The more seniors there are, and the numbers are growing all of the time, the more diverse this group is. We need to recognise this if we are to do the right things as a society and get the right government policies,” Mrs Martin says.

“For example, New Zealand’s response to COVID saw community groups, businesses, government and individuals all doing things to reach out and help older people who needed contact or extra assistance. But initially, there was also unfortunate use of the word ‘vulnerable’ to refer to those over 70.

“Language is important. There are extra health risks with age, but not everyone over 70 is ‘vulnerable’ or ‘elderly’ and it’s certainly not how they see themselves.”

Again – she should have a word with the ageist Genter.

“We’ve got a large senior market and workforce the country simply can’t afford to overlook.”

And some of them sit on company boards of directors.

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