Population growth, especially in the older cohort, will be one of the great public policy challenges of this century.
It is an issue that is explored in a new book, Population Shock, written by Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the department of immigration, and recent PhD recipient through his research in population and immigration policy.
The book centres around a new understanding of population growth; we are not to face a situation of unlimited, exponential overgrowth over the next century, but rather a temporary ‘population shock’, caused by the uniquely large ‘baby boomer’ cohort, that should culminate around the year 2050.
Rizvi tells Aged Care News that without significant policy planning and reform, our public health systems will struggle to cope.
“The health and aged care challenge will continue to grow for decades to come,” he says.
“We are only ten years into the long-term decline in our working age to population ratio.”
By the year 2057, the Australian Government predicts that there will be more than eight million persons aged 65 years and older.
And based on Government projections of usage across all three types of aged care services, by 2050 the current aged care workforce would be stretched to a ratio of 5.5 workers per 100 care recipients, unless significant growth occurs.
Around 30 per cent of new workers in the aged care sector are sourced through skilled migration, but Rizvi notes that conditions must be improved to attract domestic workers.
“Immigration on its own will not be enough,” he says.
“We need to address the core reason we find it hard to fill aged care jobs… not just the low wages but also the poor conditions, staff/client ratios and job insecurity. “
“As is the case with many female-dominated industries, the Government consistently undervalues the work done in aged care.
“Because it is viewed as ‘women’s work’, the Government and the companies that dominate the industry think they can get away with low wages and understaffing.”
Rizvi notes that the government’s response to the Royal Comission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is lacking the total systemic overhaul needed.
“Government responses to the ageing challenge tend to be small, unimaginative (and often one-off) rather than recognising that the long-term challenge requires a long-term systemic response.”
“Unless we address this fundamental problem, the issues raised by the Royal Commission will just keep repeating.”
“In terms of government funding, we only need to look at the situation of Japan to see what has happened in the most aged society on the planet.
“Their government debt to GDP ratio is many times bigger than that of Australia, even after COVID.”
Rizvi notes that at a broader level, Australia’s current taxation policy encourages the growth of inequality.
“To be able to afford decent health and aged care services for our rapidly ageing society, we need to do fundamental tax reform,” he says.
“Since the 1970s, we have flattened income tax structures, increased consumption taxes (which are regressive) and reduced company taxes… All of these have increased inequality and continue to make it worse.”
He adds that stagnating wage growth and concessional tax rates for capital income further widen the gap.
“When I sell some of my shares, I am taxed at a much lower rate than the wages earned by my daughters. But why?”
Rizvi’s book, Population Shock, is available for purchase here.