Call for communities of compassion as population ages

Today the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released the Social Justice Statement for 2016-2017; 'A Place at the Table: Social justice in an ageing society'

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, introduced the document by drawing on the words of Pope Francis to highlight the value of old age as a vocation and the need to reject individualism and consumerism. 

As more and more Australians are living longer, we should celebrate the great ‘success story’ of our ageing population and, as a fair and compassionate nation, foster solidarity among all generations, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council said today.

‘Australia must protect older people who are most vulnerable to hardship and who are at risk of feeling they are a burden on society.’

Bishop Tarabay was speaking at the launch of the Australian Catholic Bishops 2016-2017 Social Justice Statement, entitled ‘A Place at the Table: Social justice in an ageing society’.

The Statement highlights the significant contribution that older people continue to make to the life of the community. The number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double from 3.6 million today to 8.9 million by the middle of the century. Around 75 per cent of men and 85 per cent of women are reaching retirement in good health and with around 20 years of life ahead of them.

There is a risk, however, that a society ill-prepared for demographic change may assess these trends as an economic threat. Already, we hear divisive terms such as ‘intergenerational theft’ or invidious comparisons between ‘productive workers’ and ‘burdensome retirees’.

Our community must ensure that both the costs and the great benefits of an ageing population are shared equitably. Where policies encourage longer working lives, we must ensure that vulnerable groups share the benefits of employment and are protected from poverty in their later years.

Where aged-care sectors are being opened to market competition, we must ensure that those with limited means receive the dignified and adequately funded care all are entitled to. The Statement points out that particularly vulnerable people can be exposed to loneliness, ageism and elder abuse.

The Bishops challenge a ‘throw-away’ culture that casts older people as being burdensome or even dispensable. They strongly affirm the sanctity of life and call for a culture of compassionate care that values and protects people in their final years. The Bishops call for communities that foster solidarity among the generations and ensure older people have their rightful place at the table.

The entire statement, and related resources, can be found here: ‘A Place at the Table’

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