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Policy-makers wise not to ignore the needs of older Australians

Opinion

Now-abandoned plans to axe Adelaide bus stops was an example of policy ignoring the needs of older Australians. From media to digital access, the community must guard against an ageist removal of access to services, argues Jane Mussared.

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Over 50s are South Australia’s fastest growing demographic, yet the products and services they use, trust and value every day seem to be under constant threat.

While nearly half (44 per cent) of South Australians are expected to be aged 50-plus by 2050, too often older people are an afterthought in service and policy design.

The most recent example of this was the proposal to remove 1069 bus stops, until the State Government backflipped earlier this week.

It was poor policy and obvious that there had been no consultation with older people,who are the single biggest users of public transport, making 150,000 trips each week.

Thanks to the community backlash, those who can’t drive or are trying to drive less because it’s safer, now won’t have to walk up to 800 metres from their home to catch a bus.

The alternative to a 800 metre walk would have been abandoning the activities for which they relied upon public transport, such as volunteering, visiting family and friends, and shopping or attending appointments.

Leaving the bus stops and bus routes in place is a good decision, but it doesn’t go far enough.

When older people aren’t consulted or their needs are overlooked, we not only make them feel irrelevant, undervalued and marginalised, but we alienate an important and growing market.

If we are to combat social isolation and enable older South Australians to remain active citizens, we need to do much more to make public transport accessible.

Transport for older people should be free at all times, not just between 9am and 3pm and on weekends.

A review and new investment are needed to improve rural transport options, where transport services are often patchy at best. We also need a campaign to encourage public transport use, and better support with public transport technology to help older people navigate apps and websites to buy tickets, plan journeys and access timetables.

The latest cuts to traditional media outlets also fly in the face of the expressed preference of many older people to access news and information from trusted local media including radio, television and newspapers.

The bushfires and COVID-19 showed how older people rely on traditional media for their news and to make important life decisions.

People aged over 50 are as different from one another as people under 50 are, but research shows older South Australians are the country’s least digitally connected people. With misinformation and fake news rife, we need more, not fewer, ways for them to access news and information they can trust.

When older people aren’t consulted or their needs are overlooked, we not only make them feel irrelevant, undervalued and marginalised, but we alienate an important and growing market.

We recognise that decisions like the bus stops and changes to local media are often a result of economic and financial factors, but it needs to be recognised that the result is a widening divide between the needs of older people and the products and services available to them.

We need to resist the inevitability of fewer local services and take a stand with older people, close this gap, and ensure poor consultations and premature closures don’t undermine a desire to be a contributor and participant in our community.

As we call out racism and sexism, we must also pay attention to ageism and ageist decisions that prevail without thought to the consequences.

We urge governments and businesses before they make their next decision, to put themselves in the shoes of older people, respond better to their preferences and needs, and recognise their buying power.

Jane Mussared is chief executive, COTA SA

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